On a small placard just outside of the original Tomorrowland in California’s Disneyland, Walt Disney’s hope for a great big beautiful tomorrow were inscribed. “Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals,” it reads. The new movie adaptation of the popular theme park attraction that houses Space Mountain and Star Tours holds similar ideals, but a look back at the history of Tomorrowland shows it took more than just light years and dreams to bring Disney’s vision to visitors.
Here’s a brief hitchhiker’s guide to the world of Tomorrowland:
Failure To Launch
When the first Tomorrowland opened on July 17, 1955, it was the last of the five planned sections of the park to be completed and one with few rides. Early Disneyland visitors could ride Autopia, a preview of the highways to come, visit the TWA Mooliner for a trip to the moon, walk through set pieces of the then-recent “20,000 Leauges Under The Sea” movie and visit sponsored exhibits from Kaiser Aluminum, Dutch Boy Paint and Monsato’s Hall of Chemistry.
Things got a little less clear about the future with the 1959 addition of Matterhorn Mountain, an attraction that would later find itself reassigned to Fantasyland. A new redesign was badly needed to hone in on the pavilion. It couldn’t hurt to add in a few more rides.
Rocket Fuel To The Moon
The ‘60s space craze and post-New York World’s Fair fever prompted an overhaul of Tomorrowland and an increase of new rides and attractions. For a time, the Carousel of Progress took Disneyland visitors through GE’s changing technology through the years before it was relocated to the new Magic Kingdom in Florida’s Disney World in the following decade. More theme focused planning led to the debut of Disney’s next roller coaster, Space Mountain. Its 1975 success in the Magic Kingdom was so great, Disney Imagineers quickly brought it to California two years later in 1977.
Video Of The Future
Many of the attractions added to Tomorrowland during the ‘80s were more in line with the advancement of video technology than speeding coasters. Starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the 3D movie “Captain EO” premiered at Tomorrowland in 1986. The “Star Wars” themed ride, “Star Tours” joined forces the following year in 1987.
Back To The…Past?
In the ‘90s, rather than trying to predict the future, Disney Imagineers chose to utilize old school aesthetics from the likes of Jules Verne, Nikolai Tesla (both of whom are name-dropped in the film) and Leonardo da Vinci. The look borrowed from Disneyland Paris designs gave the Disneyland area a touch of George Méliès magic from “A Trip to the Moon.” But the experiment didn’t stick, and just as the decade was out, so were much of the retro fittings.
Tomorrowland has aesthetically evolved into becoming less of a reincarnation of the 1964 World’s Fair and more into its own quirky futuristic look. Much like the changing faces of Tomorrowland, the movie also explores several different aesthetics and sci-fi styles throughout the story.
Although the park rides are now largely centered around space adventures (with Stitch and Buzz Lightyear), Disney Park visitors can find remnants of the Tomorrowland of the past if they know where to look. Ride the PeopleMover to see a model of the future Walt Disney had once designed or visit the Carousel of Progress still (seasonally) operating in Disney World.
Many of those aspirational themes Walt Disney cited in his creation of Tomorrowland migrated over to the second Disney World park, Epcot (an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow). For many Tomorrowland visitors of the past, there will always be a great big beautiful tomorrow in that corner of the Disney Theme Parks.
"Tomorrowland" opens in theaters May 22.