Disney History: Tomorrowland Then & Now

Tomorrowland has always presented a unique challenge to the Imagineers. How do you build attractions that accurately depict the future when the future hasn't happened yet? It was a land destined for continuous change. Tomorrowland got off to an inauspicious beginning, sporting only two attractions on opening day - the Skyway and the Grand Prix Raceway. By the end of the year, Flight to the Moon and the Circle-Vision 360 building were added, but it would take four years of building and development until the original roster of attractions was complete. If You Had Wings, Star Jets, Carousel of Progress, WEDWay People Mover, and Space Mountain were all operational by the End of 1975.

Tomorrowland Then & NowTomorrowland Then & Now

As for the fate of the opening day attractions, The Skyway closed in 1999, presumably due to high operational cost coupled with low rider capacity. The other opening day attraction, Grand Prix Raceway, still entertains millions of visitors every year. The track has been shortened three times, first to accommodate the addition of Space Mountain, second to accommodate the addition of Mickey's Birthdayland, and most recently to make way for the Dueling Dumbos in New Fantasyland. Today the Grand Prix calls itself the Tomorrowland Speedway.

The Original Space MountainThe Original Space Mountain

Strolling through Tomorrowland today, you'll notice many other changes as well. When the Walt Disney Company realized that their attempts to keep up with the changing rate of technology were futile, a new concept was born. Imagineers were given the task of creating "the tomorrow that never was". One of the themes of this concept was that in our theoretical tomorrow, humans and aliens would coexist on Earth. Flight to the Moon, which had morphed into Mission to Mars, was reborn as ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in 1993. The story terrified children and adults alike and in a controversial move, it was reimagined yet again in 2003 as Stitch's Great Escape.

Stitch Causes Chaos In the ParkStitch Causes Chaos In the Park

Circle Vision 360, which began its life running the show "America the Beautiful" and ended its run with Robin Williams' "Timekeeper", closed for refurbishment in 2006. When it reopened the following year, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor stood in its place. Another alien addition to Tomorrowland during this period was the replacement of live bands at what we now call Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe with an animatronic Sonny Eclipse, a resident of Yew Nork City on the Planet Zork.

Mike Wazowski Hosts This Unique ShowMike Wazowski Hosts This Unique Show

The one constant in Tomorrowland has been change. Every single attraction has undergone at least one major overhaul. If You Had Wings endured three name changes and sponsorship shuffles before yielding to the current Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in 1998. The Star Jets were given a modern facelift and reopened in 1994 as Astro Orbiter.

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger SpinBuzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

Carousel of Progress went through several iterations that included changes to the final scene, script changes, character name changes, and most notably, song changes. The Sherman Brothers crafted the original theme song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," for the attraction's debut at the 1964 World's Fair, but in the 1975 reboot, a new song called "Now is the Time" replaced the beloved classic. In 1994, the Carousel returned to its roots by reverting back to the original theme song.

Carousel of ProgressCarousel of Progress

While Space Mountain's track has remained largely unchanged, updates to technology have necessitated several lengthy refurbishments to keep Tomorrowland's flagship ride running with the most modern equipment and relevant show and design elements. Perhaps the WEDWay People Mover, now known as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, remains the attraction that is the most true to its original self.

What Tomorrowland favorites do you miss the most? What are the best new additions?

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her time in Walt Disney World with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's trip, you can find her sharing her adventures on our member forum.

More thanks goes to Matt Dempsey, Peter Lee , and Loren Javier for use of their images via Creative Commons.

Kristen K. wrote on Mon, 02/09/2015 - 15:00:

Kristen K.'s picture

Another great post Holly! I love how you bring Disney History alive.

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