It didn't take long for Disney to encounter that most discouraging element of designing Tomorrowland: tomorrow always becomes today. Wait long enough, and it may even become yesterday!
"Tomorrowlands" opened with Disneyland Park, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland in 1955, 1971, and 1982, respectively. Each represented the future as envisioned by its time, so each looked very different. And each eventually began to look desperately out-dated.
With the prospect of yet another Disneyland-style park with a future-oriented land at Disneyland Paris in 1992, Imagineers said "enough is enough." Instead of trying to predict a future that wouldeventually come true, they decided to take a different approach. It worked, and the rest of the Tomorrowlands followed suit. Across the world, each Tomorrowland diverged into very different styles.
Below, we've documented the four Tomorrowland-style areas you'll find in Disney Parks today. On the next page, we'll chronicle four Tomorrowland styles that were hinted at or even officially announced by Disney, but have yet to come to life.
1. A classic industrial, geometric, World’s Fair vision of tomorrow
Location: Tokyo Disneyland
Debut Year: 1983
This is what Tomorrowland looked like at the Magic Kingdom in Florida when it opened. A clean, white, simple land of geometric shapes and towers. When Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, it looked… well… a lot like the American version. Tokyo’s leadership was very specific that they did not want their Disney park to focus on or resemble Japanese culture or architecture. They wanted a clone of the Magic Kingdom, with all the Western, American design and ideology that went into it. They got it, and that included a copy of Florida's Tomorrowland.
Magic Kingdom (and thus Tokyo Disneyland) had almost identical Tomorrowlands at the time, each entered between towering geometric structures that housed waterfalls. Within, the land is mostly made up of plain show-building style attractions with simple geometric facades and decidedly dated patterns. Magic Kingdom got a “New Tomorrowland” in 1994 (which we'll look at next). Tokyo didn’t. The park still has the simple, clean-line Tomorrowland of the era. Somehow, it still works.
The addition of Star Tours in 1989 did create a new sub-section of the land. Equally and obviously of the 80s, the “industrial” building with its striped yellow-and-black trim and Panasonic satellite dish looks like something out of an anime, so it, too, works. It also happens to be sat right next to a full-sized recreation of Monsters Inc. headquarters for the impressive dark ride that calls Tomorrowland home. So Tokyo’s land is an odd duck; a mish-mash of themes with no consistent style or story (which is especially odd given that DisneySea next door is so immersive). But it works for the park, and visitors don’t seem to give it a second thought.
2. A silver and neon sci-fi alien spaceport of tomorrow
Location: Magic Kingdom
Debut Year: 1994
While Magic Kingdom started with the same Tomorrowland that Tokyo Disneyland still has, it didn't stay that way. Magic Kingdom got a New Tomorrowland in 1994 that solved the Tomorrowland Problem at the Florida resort. Rather than trying to showcase actual technological advancement, the land turned to science fiction.
New Tomorrowland was designed as a real, functioning city of the future (not unlike Frontierland being a functioning city of the past). Each of the land’s rides takes place in one continuity. That building on the left? That’s the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center. Right now, it’s rented out by X-S Tech, who’s showing off their new teleporter technology. Across from it is the Tomorrowland Metropolis Science Center, where a robotic scientist has a set up an exhibit on time travel. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority functions as the “city’s” public transportation as it glides along overhead highways, pointing out the Convention Center and Science Museum en route. This simple level of reality explains how Alien Encounter and The Timekeeper could co-exist, and it was brilliant.
This “City of the Future” is entered via the magnificent Avenue of Planets, where towering architecture draws guests right into an early 20th century pulp comic book. It feels like you’re walking into a serial adventure like Buck Rogers. The design calls for striking silver, giant cogs, and neon colors. It’s truly breathtaking, and probably the most well-developed Tomorrowland style in the history of the parks.
3. A golden fantasy seaport of European storytellers
Location: Disneyland Paris
Debut Year: 1992
When Imagineers designed Disneyland Paris, they were determined to make the most beautiful of all the Disneyland-style parks. Given a clean slate and massive budget, they planned to redesign the park’s themed lands from the ground up, infusing them with new romanticized stories and details. The shift is evident in each of the park’s themed lands, but the big difference is in the land of the future.
Imagineers were finally able to solve the Tomorrowland Problem by creating a land that was not based on predicting the future, showcasing evolving science, or trying to guess at futuristic transportation systems. Instead of turning to science-fiction, designers instead relied upon fantasy. Tomorrowland had typically been the stark white land of modern architecture, clean lines, and vast concrete expanse. Not here.
Disneyland Paris didn’t have “Tomorrowland.” In its place was “Discoveryland,” based on the retro-futuristic ideas of great European thinkers. The land was not a cold and harsh scientific city, but a lush golden seaport, bringing to life the “steampunk” future envisioned by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, with contraptions right out of a Leonardo da Vinci sketchbook. Filled with bubbling lagoons and iron towers and forested hillside, Discoveryland turned the Tomorrowland concept on its head.
4. A mish-mash of all the above
Debut Year: 1998
By far, the original Disneyland is the oddest duck of all. When the land opened in 1955, it was meant to represent the distant future... 1986. Surprisingly (or not), many of Walt’s predictions did come true, and he nailed the look and feel of the Space Age with unusual precision. Still, Tomorrowland began to feel antiquated. In 1967 (four years before Walt Disney World opened), the park got a New Tomorrowland that would set the feel of every Tomorrowland to follow – white, clean, and bold with triangular towers and Googie architecture. By the 1990s as Florida and France created their “timeless” lands, Disneyland set out to do the same. But under the crushing debt of Disneyland Paris’ overexpansion, things changed.
Instead, money was slashed. Tasked with creating a marketable New Tomorrowland on a paltry budget, Disney Imagineers decided to borrow. New Tomorrowland 1998 looked a lot like Paris’ Discoveryland, but not where it counted. The land was bathed in dark copper paint and artificial red rocks were planted all around the already-cramped land. The Rocket Jets that had swirled above Tomorrowland since its early days was relocated to ground level at the land's entry, and re-modeled to look a LOT like Paris' Da Vinci style Orbitron. The only significant new additions for the land were the Rocket Rods – a failed thrill ride that lasted only a few years and destroyed the park’s own Walt-Disney-original Peoplemover in the process – and a tired re-hash of Epcot’s Innoventions in the Carousel Theatre.
New Tomorrowland floundered. People didn’t like seeing the distinctly Space-Age architecture of Space Mountain painted dreary bronze and green. The “European” retro-future of Discoveryland was pretty, but it didn’t translate when simply painted over Disneyland’s existing Space Age style buildings and rides. A Jules Verne-style exterior to Star Tours made little sense, and it wasn’t as compelling as Paris or Orlando’s. Starting in 2005, the land was re-painted in white and silver, except for the prominent Astro Orbitor (a golden clone of Paris’). So for now, the land is part gold, part white, part silver, with Walt’s original Space Age architecture coexisting with retro-future accents added in 1998, and with the unused Peoplemover / Rocket Rods track sitting, empty, overhead. A very odd look at the future, isn't it?
You can read our detailed feature on Tomorrowland 1998 by clicking here.
So now we see the ways in which the future is currently portrayed at Disney Parks across the globe. Continue onto page two for a glimpse into the future that never was and concepts for Tomorrowland that simply haven't come to life... yet.