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Behind the Ride: The PeopleMover

The experience: Bringing the PeopleMover to Magic Kingdom The trick: Making the best of an impossible situation

Image: DisneyYou’ve likely deduced why the PeopleMover never became a viable transportation solution. It suffered in the absence of its strongest advocate, its inventor. Walt Disney died in December of 1966, barely six months before the opening of the attraction at Disneyland. His health tragically deteriorated mightily over the course of 18 months. The shock of it prevented any viable plans for securing his legacy.

After his brother’s death, Roy O. Disney helmed the Florida Project. To his credit, it’s become one of the most popular paid tourist attractions on the planet. At the time, Uncle Walt’s older brother faced an impossible choice, though. He could attempt to construct the E.P.C.O.T. that Walt Disney had envisioned, almost certainly failing in the process, or he could create a place worthy of the Disney name. He understandably chose the latter, and history has proved him right.

The byproduct of this decision is that Disney never needed the PeopleMover as anchor transportation for Progress City. Why would they? There is no Progress City. Left with no other options, Imagineers felt driven to honor their founder’s wishes in some way. The output of this aspiration is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, an attraction rather than a legitimate form of transportation.

Image: DisneyThe PeopleMover wasn’t a part of the early years of Walt Disney World. It wouldn’t until four years later in 1975. At the time, it was called the WEDWay PeopleMover, and it was actually a huge improvement on the original model. Imagineers had since learned how to utilize linear induction motors in lieu of a propulsion engine.

This innovation came with an odd downside, too. Goodyear had no interest in sponsoring this version of the PeopleMover since it negated the need for their product, the tire. I mention this not just as an amusing anecdote. Goodyear’s fear of the ride hinting at their obsolescence is additional proof of how progressive the PeopleMover was during the mid-1960s through late-1970s. The technology truly could have changed the world.

Instead, fans of the PeopleMover at Magic Kingdom receive a bittersweet visual treat toward the start of each ride. On one side of the path, guests receive an up-close look at part of the original model prototype of Progress City. It’s almost ghoulish, like a Twilight Zone episode wherein someone comes face to face with an alternate reality that demonstrates what might have been…and what might have been is oh so much better.

Image: DisneyDespite this ghoulish piece to the ride experience, the PeopleMover has remained an integral part of a Magic Kingdom experience for nearly 45 years and counting. It’s the place where guests go to get off their feet and get swept away in a serene 10-minute trip around Tomorrowland.

This version is similar to the Disneyland one that closed forever in 1995. The journey of the PeopleMover sells the high spots of Tomorrowland, building buzz for other attractions. Simultaneously, it hints at the true purpose of the PeopleMover, an efficient transportation system that could have ended gridlock and vastly improved metropolitan travel. Walt Disney was so brilliant that some of his best ideas were impossible to bring to life without him.  

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