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Disney Tried to Invent a Timeless Tomorrowland. Here's Where it All Went Wrong

What will tomorrow bring?

Since Disneyland’s opening day, Imagineers have been tasked with the impossible feat of creating the future. And more often than not, they’ve gotten it surprisingly right. The trouble is that “tomorrow” never stays that way for long. Throughout American history, our collective ideals of the future have shifted from bright, white, geometric landscapes of the Space Age to gritty, industrial, polluted wastelands and everything in between.

All the while, technologies and culture and imagination were changing, and Disney Imagineers spent most of their time playing catch-up. By the 1990s, designers were tired of the constant chase for tomorrow, and of the perpetual and never-ending updates needed to keep Disney Parks’ Tomorrowlands current. They had an idea: that each and every Disney Parks resort would get a New Tomorrowland. These New Tomorrowlands would be romanticized and built-out and – most importantly – timeless. They'd never need updated again.

How? Well, that’s our story. Read on as we explore one of the most enigmatic and unusual lands that Disney designed and announced, but never built. We’ll explore the boundless possibilities behind the forgotten Tomorrowland 2055 meant to change Disneyland’s Tomorrowland for good, and the abysmal reimagining it got instead… The best way to examine the future is to begin in the past, so let’s take a look at the history of Tomorrowland. 

1955 – 1966: The Original Tomorrowland

Location: Disneyland Park
Lifetime: 1955 - 1966 

"A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man's achievements... A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world." That's what Walt called for in the dedication of Tomorrowland when it first opened with Disneyland in 1955.

If you can imagine, Disneyland’s construction timeline from moving the first shovel of dirt to opening the park was one year and one day. Early on in that short construction window, Walt lost a bit of his faith in Tomorrowland, and ordered that construction halt on the eastern side of the park.

His intention was that the shallow financing he had should focus on the rest of the park, and that Tomorrowland would open later, in a second phase of construction.

In late autumn, he allegedly changed his mind and instructed that development of Tomorrowland resume. And Tomorrowland was open for Disneyland’s grand opening. However, it wasn’t the Tomorrowland Walt wanted. Under financial pressure and on a short timeframe, the Tomorrowland guests stepped into in the park’s first years was essentially a corporate showcase with companies such as Monsanto, American Motors, Dutch Boy Paint, and Kaiser Aluminum sponsoring walk-through style attractions peddling their wares – a Kaiser Hall of Aluminum, a Dutch Boy Color Gallery, and the Monsanto House of the Future displaying the unthinkable technology behind a domestic-sized microwave (legitimately the stuff of the future... the household, countertop microwave oven wouldn't be available for a decade).

Just a few Disney-produced installations were present, including a stunning walk-through of the actual film props and sets of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. One unique attraction was Rocket to the Moon, a theatre-in-the-round style presentation simulating a visual trip from Earth to the moon. 

Tomorrowland’s largest expansion came in 1959 – four years after the park’s opening – when Walt got his chance to bring the land in step with what he’d always pictured. A stunning, massive growth-spurt added Matterhorn Bobsleds (the world’s first tubular steel-tracked roller coaster), the Monorail, and the Submarine Voyage – all billed with the brand new E-Ticket designation.

While the three new additions helped add some heft to Tomorrowland, they still weren't able to create the land Walt had always dreamed of. For that, he would need a clean slate. 

1967: New Tomorrowland

Location: Disneyland Park
Lifetime: 1967 - 1998 

A decade after the park opened, Imagineers were ready for a new start to Tomorrowland. The technologies and corporate showcases in the land were woefully out of date already – totally inappropriate for a park determined to showcase “tomorrow.” Their ideas coalesced into what was triumphantly called New Tomorrowland, a complete from-scratch re-build of most of the land.

Even guests who never saw this New Tomorrowland with their own eyes often cite it as the definitive version of the land. Crisp, white, and filled with geometric shapes and bright splashes of color, this Tomorrowland felt like an optimistic, vibrant vision of what the future could bring. Flanked by mirrored showbuildings, the new entry to the land was grand – a Space Age avenue flanked by soaring, geometric pointed spires, with the revolving Rocket Jets vaulted high above the land on a towering pedestal three stories up.

Perhaps the most recognizable and beloved element of this Tomorrowland was the sleek white highways of the Peoplemover, which would glide along the land's second story, zipping in and out of geometric showbuildings. Those showbuildings had magnificent and memorable attractions of their own. In the concept painting up above, the south showbuilding (on the right) housed Adventures Thru Inner Space, a radical Omnimover-led dark ride that reduced guests down to the size of an atom. The north showbuilding contained an updated Circle-Vision 360 theater, marveling audiences of the '60s. 

This new Tomorrowland had also benefitted from the close of the 1964 – 65 World’s Fair, when the Fair’s hit Carousel of Progress was relocated to the park in a new revolving theater at the land’s far end. The innovative attraction contained six stages built on a stationary central "core" of the building. The outer "ring" of the building was thusly divided into six theaters and could rotate, so that guests would enter a theater, and then rotate to the next stage, allowing six simultaneous shows to be occuring at once, each in a different scene. Carousel of Progress, sponsored by GE, chronicled the changes of one American family through the years as electricity and innovation shifted society.

New Tomorrowland was often called “The World on the Move,” filled with kinetic energy: The Rocket Jets spiraling through the air three stories up; The Peoplemover and Monorail zooming overhead; the rotating Carousel Theater drawing the eyes; the Submarine Voyage chugging away beneath the waves and waterfalls of the land’s central lagoon; the Autopia cars darting along elevated highways beyond; the Matterhorn Bobsleds whizzing by on the mountainside above… This energized and exhilarating, multi-story land surrounded guests with movement – a purposeful and brilliant design choice that made it bright, friendly, and alive. Tomorrowland was tall and moving while Frontierland was flat and slow and Adventureland was deep.

1971: A Second Tomorrowland

Location: Magic Kingdom
Lifetime: 1971 - 1994 

When Magic Kingdom opened in the new Walt Disney World, it had its own Tomorrowland. Built from a similar time period and perspective as Disneyland’s New Tomorrowland, the land was similarly styled around clean, geometric shapes, gleaming white showbuildings, and concrete pylons. Still, the land had its own style. Rather than cloning the curved, elegant showbuildings of Disneyland, Magic Kingdom designed a new entry to Tomorrowland, flanked by massive pointed pylons with cascading waterfalls pouring into the park’s central moat below.

The land’s inhabitants by the mid-1970s included the park’s own Circle-Vision theater, a beloved aviation-themed dark ride called If You Had Wings (which, in many ways, shares its DNA with the grand educational dark rides of EPCOT that would open later), and the relocated Carousel of Progress (which closed at Disneyland and was moved to a new Carousel Theater in Magic Kingdom). Florida’s Tomorrowland included a clone of the theater-in-the-round that Disneyland had used for Flight to the Moon. However, by the mid-1970s, flights to the moon were no longer the stuff of wonder. So instead, the attraction opened in Florida as Mission to Mars.

The white, sleek, geometric look of the land was cemented with the addition of a conical Space Age peak that would define Tomorrowland from that point on. Space Mountain opened in 1975. Its immense popularity allowed Imagineers to revisit plans to add it to Disneyland, so an improved version of the ride opened there in 1977.

So far, so good. But tastes change and time passes… And next, we encounter the most dreaded and frightening thing Imagineers encounter: the Tomorrowland Problem. Read on....

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There are 11 comments.

Great info; well-written! My biggest peeve, perhaps, is the relocation of the jets from atop the Peoplemover tower to the entry at Disneyland. 3/4 of the thrill and pleasure of that attraction was the height and the views. Now it is basically Dumbo-on-the-hub. Hope they will fix this land one day. And thank you for the Pixar comment at the end. I completely agree. I wish they wouldn't worry so much about storytelling sometimes (and/or a retelling of film franchises) and just give us an awesome, orginal, sensory experience.

One page two you said

"Think about it: The Space Race had seen countries sprint to the moon throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, but by the ‘80s, the moon had lost its luster in the eyes of the public.

Which countries (plural) went to the moon?

They might be referencing the fact that Soviet Union and the U.S. had a bit of a race to the moon, with America finally landing it first despite Russia's initial lead at getting the first man to orbit the earth, and landing the first object on the moon? And maybe China, since they also had manned space travel, though I don't know much about it so I won't pretend I do, but maybe they're including them as well? I don't know if that's what they're referencing but perhaps?

The U.S. is the only country that's made it to the moon so far, which I expect you know based on your question. The Space Race refers to the race to get there by the Soviet Union and the U.S. After the Space Race ended, the moon was no longer a pop culture icon for people.

Im pretty sure, but no completely, Russia, China, US

The TPT retrospectives continue to be the most interesting articles on the site. Thank you for the history lesson; the stories of yesterday's rides, lands, and parks give the present status much more depth.

This may be Blasphemous, but why not do away with Tomorrowland altogether. (What??!!) Yes, at least at Disneyland ( though Magic Kingdom needs some new inspiration too. ) now hear me out, Both areas are struggling to "maintain" the concept of Tomorrow and with the growing popularity of Pixar, Why not turn Disneyland Tomorrowland into ToyStoryland? They are building it from scratch in Hollywood Studios, Fl but Could very easily turn Tomorrowland into it for California. I know, But Walt built Tomorrowland!! but did he? He himself had stopped the building of it only to have finished it because of the corporate sponsorship he received and they, the corporations, were the ones who spurred the concept of the land. Now that Pixar inspired rides have crept into the land I say bring it on! I think with a totally different younger generation growing up with Pixar and Disney Junior, it would be a much more attractive concept for them. Tomorrow is not what they are interested in, it is Now. Now can always be, Updated.

Or maybe replace Tomorrowland with Pandora. Regardless what happens with the space, the Tomorrowland redo should be the next thing at Disneyland Resort. Not Marvel in DCA, not an expanded Fantasyland...but, Tomorrowland. It seems Star Tours needs to go the day the Star Wars area opens. Then what?

Awesome write-up! I really enjoy your in-depth articles, especially when some of the daily articles on this site can be a bit short on substance. Thanks again for a fun read!

This was an amazing article! Well written with lots of really interesting factoids! Although having read this, one random/tangential thing keeps bugging me. With the failure of Disneyland Paris causing Eisner to stop "bet[ting] big on large-scale projects", how did Disney's Animal Kingdom get built? Was it just one of the projects that got dramatically scaled back from it's original vision (like the cancellation of Beastly Kingdom) rather than getting outright cancelled?

It is sad to think of what might have been if Eisner and Disney had simply devoted all of their resources to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. It doesn't like any of the over seas parks are doing gangbusters, and it would be amazing to see all of the new rides and concepts spread out between the two original parks.

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