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This Closed Magic Kingdom Classic Shaped EPCOT Center and Gave a Generation Wings. Here's the Story.

To Infinity and Beyond

While the aviation themed dark ride at Magic Kingdom swapped names, sponsors, and scenes, a more radical reinvention took place around it.

Image: Disney

A New Tomorrowland descended in 1994, cleverly recasting the simple, geometric land leftover from the park’s 1971 opening into a fantastical, metallic, sci-fi alien spaceport of landed crafts, neon signs in alien languages, and mechanical trees. Tomorrowland had left reality behind to showcase a future that never would be, based on the sci-fi comic strips of the early 20th century like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon.

Cleverly, this New Tomorrowland had also created a single continuity that would rule the land, uniting all of its rides, shows, and attractions into one overarching story.

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority (the “real” mass transit system of this “real” galactic spaceport) toured the public past the Interplanetary Convention Center (currently rented by X-S Tech showing their newest teleportation technology in another Lost Legend: Alien Encounter), the Tomorrowland Science Center (home to fellow Lost Legend: The Timekeeper), Rockettower Plaza (with the Astro Orbitor atop), a restaurant and nightclub run by an alien (Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café) and the city’s Space Port (Space Mountain).

Delta Dreamflight (and its successors) didn’t really fit. Disney did have plans for the space. However, they revolved around the 1999 film Toy Story 2. The ride – Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – opened more than a year before the film, introducing the world to Emperor Zurg... 

(The ride also introduced what may be the most cluttered and aesthetically displeasing ride facade in all of Walt Disney World, but we digress...)

Image: Theme Park Tourist

The 1998 ride sees guests join Buzz Lightyear and his Star Command league of defenders to stop the evil Zurg (a clear play on Darth Vader), who’s stolen batteries from the toys. The ride reuses the physical track and ride system of the flight rides that preceded it, but swaps the style for blacklight and arms riders with laser-blasting guns to shoot glowing targets.

Image: Disney

Okay, so Buzz didn’t exactly fit into the New Tomorrowland designers unveiled in 1994, either. But his arrival did signal that direction that land was going. A “cartoonification” of the land followed close behind, axing the bloodthirsty ExtraTERRORestrial in Alien Encounter in favor of the mischievous alien from Lilo and Stitch, evicting the Timekeeper for Monsters Inc., and planting The Incredibles center stage for a long-running dance party.

The “cartoonification” of Tomorrowland is a big sticking point for many fans, who balk at the way the once-brave lands of sincere innovation and forward-thinking design have become thoughtless catch-alls for intellectual properties. Around the globe, most Tomorrowlands have now given up any semblance of caring about the future in favor of housing Lilo and Stitch, Monsters Inc., Star Wars, Marvel super heroes, TRON, Toy Story, and even Finding Nemo

As for the remains of If You Had Wings that live on in Buzz Lightyear? Well… we’re all waiting to see what comes next. Another reboot of Tomorrowland feels imminent at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, and – despite all evidence to the contrary – fans are still hopeful that any such rebirth will evict (or at least minimize) the most invasive cartoon characters and maybe – just maybe – involve an original story or two once again.

Image: Disney / Marvel

One space to watch is Hong Kong Disneyland; where an entire corner of Tomorrowland is being annexed to Marvel, with their Buzz Lightyear ride being entirely rethemed itself to Marvel’s miniaturized Ant-Man… And Disney does love to stretch their design and development dollars by cloning popular concepts…

If such a transformation ever does come to pass, it'll be fascinating in a way, given that If You Had Wings was a sibling to Coats' Adventure Thru Inner Space, relying on miniaturization. 

Spiritual Sequels

Image: Disney, via Widen Your World

There’s no denying the impact of If You Had Wings – a true Lost Legend whose two-decade run at the Magic Kingdom made it a fan favorite and an instant classic. Though often overlooked, the ride was devised by Disney Legends, composed with a classic sing-along score, and packed with remarkable scenes and effects that changed Disney’s playbook forever.

Perhaps just as important as its own legacy, If You Had Wings (and its sister, Adventure Thru Inner Space) were precursors to the uniquely educational, realistic, and scientific dark rides that would populate EPCOT Center’s Future World. This lost Magic Kingdom classic literally helped determine how those grand, elaborate EPCOT rides that followed would look, sound, and feel.

That’s why we argue that If You Had Wings lived on in the form of two “spiritual sequels:”

Image: Disney

First, If You Had Wings was the final Omnimover-based dark ride Disney built for a decade, but it heavily influenced the next: a Lost Legend: World of Motion at EPCOT Center. World of Motion essentially followed the same trajectory (including a speed room), just focused on land travel and the development of the automobile.

Riders in Omnimovers experienced the development of transportation from camels to cars and everything in between. In classic EPCOT Center style, the ride was informative, elaborate, musical, and fun. And of course, it featured its own speed room. 

Image: Disney

Second, we told the in-depth story of Disney’s follow-up foray into the whimsy and majesty of flight in its own standalone feature, Lost Legend: Soarin’ – a great place to pick up the story from here. If you'd rather fly somewhere new, make the jump to our In-Depth Collections Library to set course for your next Lost Legend.

And so ends the story of this Lost Legend, whose two-decade lifetime at Magic Kingdom is too often overlooked. A real, understated wonder of Disney World’s earliest years, If You Had Wings shaped the resort’s history and set forth a blueprint for EPCOT Center’s educational-industrial dark rides. In the comments below, share your memories of this free-flying family ride and its successors. What do you remember of Magic Kingdom’s aviation rides? 

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There are 2 comments.

I loved this ride. It was quick to get on and you never felt like you were in line because the line was always moving. Plus, I remember that this ride did not require a ticket (back in the days when you bought packs of tickets). I remember getting off it and getting right back on.

Thank you for this article. If You Had Wings was my fave ride of my Disney Parks childhood in the 70's & 80's. I also rode Dreamflight a lot, even though it was not as good, just because its lines were minimal. Buzz Lightyear is okay, although I don't really like playing games. I was glad you posted all the lyrics to "If You Had Wings" and rode us through a wordy recreation of the ride. It was so nostalgic. Besides that, even though it was my favorite and I have fond memories of it, I already forget a lot about what went on in that ride.

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