Sunday, January 05, 2014

Disneyland: Steps In Time - Tomorrowland

Disney artist Herb Ryman's concept illustration of Tomorrowland, circa 1954.
These "before, after and today" images all show essentially the same view of Disneyland's Tomorrowland, looking toward Harbor Blvd and away from the park's central hub. All the park's lands have undergone significant changes in the past 58 years or so, but few offer as many opportunities for "urban archaeology" tours as Tomorrowland.

When Disneyland opened, Tomorrowland wasn't really ready for prime time yet. Disney knew this, and tried to fill space with some uninspiring sponsor-driven exhibits, not unlike today's Innoventions. They filled more empty space with a snazzy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit, promoting the Disney film and making good use of movie props. But overall, Tomorrowland was half-baked. Disney gradually improved the area in the coming years. The "turn over rate" for attractions was greater than in other lands. 
Tomorrowland in 1955, shortly after Disneyland's opening. Image courtesy Daveland.
Of course, Tomorrowland had to be updated periodically, to keep it from becoming Yesterdayland. This process has been more or less continuous, but there have been a few particularly notable sea changes.

In 1959, Tomorrowland was beefed up considerably with the opening of the Submarine Voyage and the Monorail -- both in the shadow of the new Matterhorn mountain.

But the land-wide makeover of Tomorrowland came in 1967 with a whole new environment that emphasized motion. PeopleMover tracks wound through the entire area and crossed paths with the Monorail. The Carousel of Progress building revolved just a short distance from a spiffed-up Autopia and the still-newish submarines. The Tomorrowland Terrace stage emerged almost magically out of the ground for regular musical performances. And the Rocket Jets spun high above everything.
The same view in 1974, taken from Yesterland's article on the PeopleMover.
The next major change came in 1998 with a strange re-do that suffered from some big problems. First of all, much of the "New Tomorrowland" was actually made up of tongue-in-cheek (although beautifully executed) references to past visions of the future. A view of the future from the late 1990s should not have highlighted motifs from Jules Verne and the late-1950s Space Age zeitgeist.

The land's redesign was also beset with funding problems which killed any truly impressive projects that might have been undertaken.

Meanwhile, the old Rocket Jets was recombobulated as Astro-Orbiter and placed at the entrance to Tomorrowland, blocking traffic flow and putting the look and feel of the park's central hub all out of balance.
The same angle, circa 2012 -- essentially as it appears today
Disney executives also decided at the last minute that an environmental theme should be included in the New Tomorrowland. This was put across by painting everything ugly dirt colors and by putting edible foods in the planters.It was bizarre and out of place.

The PeopleMover cars were pulled off their tracks and replaced with new Rocket Rods vehicles. This was supposed to make for a faster more thrilling ride. Unfortunately, the engineering of the tracks didn't allow for faster vehicles. So Rocket Rods was a slow ride with fake "speed" sounds (ZOOM! WHOOSH! VROOOM!) played over speakers in an attempt to fool riders. This was the big signature attraction for the New Tomorrowland. It broke down constantly until it was finally shuttered for good in 2000.

Some of the worst ideas from 1998 have already disappeared, and some new and updated attractions have debuted in Tomorrowland since then. But we're still waiting for the next major overhaul. Unfortunately, thinking about the future isn't something Americans seem to be very good at these days. As a culture, we have to dream up a better future before Disney can build a compact replica of it in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, for more Tomorrowland history than you can shake a stick at, check out Werner Weiss' Yesterland website. It's both fun and endlessly nostalgia-inducing.


Pat Tillett said...

Great post! My first visit to Disneyland was for my birthday in 1955. When my kids were interested, we had annual passes. It's been interesting watching the place change through the years.
When I hear the word Disneyland, I automatically think of Monte Cristo sandwiches.

Anonymous said...

The '67 version, with the addition of Space Mountain, was far superior to the '98 and current version. It went from my favorite to least favorite area of the Park. You hit it square on---the theme in 1967 was motion and a real vision for the future which we sadly lack today as a society. So, perhaps the current version is truly representative after all.

Chris Jepsen said...

Pat: Yes, Monte Cristo sandwiches and those non-alcoholic "mint juleps" in New Orleans Square (and fritters with apple butter when they were still available). And Dole Whip floats on the lanai in front of the Tiki Room. Yes, Disneyland is all about the health food! :-)

Anonymous: Personally, I loved the Dick Dale soundtrack they added to Space Mountain in the late 1990s. It made the ride *seem* faster and more exciting. Of course, that's gone now too.

Anonymous said...

I missed that era Chris. Haven't been on the ride in decades. During its construction and early testing, I was one of the lucky CMs chosen to be a 'test rider'. The outer walls remained open in the employee area, so the track was plainly visible. We walked in wearing hard hats. Loved the was a real blast...and was informed later that it was running up to 10mph too fast...the vehicle would have blown through the emergency brakes. They changed the wheels to a different material (among other things no doubt) to slow it down. A later test run was still fun but less thrilling. Of course if you weren't one of the first riders, you'd never know the difference today.

Steve S. said...

Does anyone remember "Cinerama USA", the 360 degree(actually 359 degrees!)theater, which showed the movie "America the Beautiful"?

This was a 1960 replacement for the earlier film called "A Tour of the West" which started at, or around the opening of Disneyland in 1955.

The theater attraction was closed in 1967 due causing motion sickness in a fairly large percentage of the audience. Though it re-opened in the same year of 1967, it was re-named "Circle-Vision 360" with a re-make of the film "America the Beautiful" and an upgrade to an actual 360 degrees viewing screen.

I can remember watching the audience sway back and forth while we all would stand holding onto both rails at our sides, especially during the film's fire truck ride through the city!

marty mankins said...

Way too many changes to Tomorrowland that never fit right or worked right.

I had high hopes for Rocket Rods, but they didn't work long enough for me to ride them. A friend of mine rode once and he had a "meh" experience.