“A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man’s achievements…a step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.” – Walt Disney
Tomorrowland represented Walt Disney’s vision of the future. Before it opened in Disneyland in 1955, Walt had many ideas for how he wanted to realize that vision. But this was the land that was the most difficult to build and many ideas for attractions were cut or not feasible to make that decade.
Much to Walt’s disappointment, the area started out as a showcase for corporations such as American Motors (these companies sponsored many of the exhibits in order for Disney to obtain funding), but attractions eventually started peppering the area by decade’s end.
Attractions at Tomorrowland in 1955 include the TWA Moonliner exhibit, the tallest structure in Disneyland (beating Sleeping Beauty Castle by 8 feet) depicting what a commercial spaceliner to the moon might look like in the futuristic year of 1986, and featuring the Rocket to the Moon attraction that took guests on a simulated ride to the moon (later renamed “Flight to the Moon” in 1967 and redubbed “Mission to Mars” in 1975 long after the space race to the moon between Russia and the U.S. became old news).
Other opening day attractions included the entrance showpiece the Clock of the World which showed you what time it was in each part of the globe, the space station X-1 which showed a satellite view of America, the Monsanto Hall of Chemistry which was a walkthrough tour about chemistry that took place in the south show building, and in the north show building was Circarama U.S.A. which was a showcase for Circle-Vision 360.°
Circle-Vision 360° was a film technique refined by Disney that uses nine screens and nine cameras arranged in a circle to show guests a 360° film that spanned the entire room. Disney animator and visual effects artist Ub Iwerks designed the 9-lens camera and projection system and original Disney films shown using this system include America the Beautiful, American Journeys, A Tour of the West and Wonders of China. Shows like The Timekeeper and O Canada! were seen at other Disney parks.
Autopia is a racecar track attraction showcasing the national interstate system of the future. Although it has been modified through the years, it is the only attraction in Tomorrowland that has been there since opening day.
Other attractions that opened in the fifties include The World Beneath Us (1955) which was a showcase for Earth’s geology, the Aluminum Hall of Fame (1955), the aviation-themed Flight Circle (1955), the Astro Jets (1956) which allowed guests to fly their own rockets (now known as the Astro Orbiter), the Skyway to Fantasyland (1956), the Monsanto House of the Future (1957) which took visitors on a tour of a futuristic home showcasing such products as the microwave, the picture phone and the television remote, and in 1959 came the Disneyland Monorail, Submarine Voyage and Matterhorn (later part of Fantasyland) attractions.
By 1966, Tomorrowland had started to become dated and in 1967, the area was rebuilt with new attractions and scenery. These new attractions included the PeopleMover and Adventure Thru Inner Space which shrunk the audience to the size of an atom, but Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress was the attraction Walt loved the most.
The Carousel of Progress was an audio-animatronic stage show attraction that premiered at the 1964 New York World’s Fair along with It’s a Small World, later moving to Disneyland in 1967 and ultimately Walt Disney World in the seventies. The show explores the joys of living through technological advancements from the advent of electricity forward, Act 1 depicting the 1900s, Act 2 depicting the 1920s, Act 3 depicting the 1940s and Act 4 depicting the 21st century. The Sherman Brothers were hired to write the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as a bridging song between each act, with Walt’s enthusiasm for the future said by the Shermans to be the inspiration behind the jaunty and optimistic tune.
The seed of the idea came when Walt had the idea to expand Main Street, U.S.A. with two districts: “International Street,” and “Edison Square” with Edison Square being the site of a show called “Harnessing the Lightning” which was to be hosted by an electromechanical man named Wilbur K. Watt, but the idea was scrapped.
In the seventies, the flight simulator to the moon was replaced by the Mission to Mars, the video game filled Starcade opened and in 1977, Space Mountain arrived.
Walt Disney originally conceived of a space-themed roller coaster following the success of the Matterhorn Bobsleds in 1959, but technological limitations meant that he wouldn’t live to see it when it finally opened in Walt Disney World in 1975. The Imagineers in Florida were initially planning to build their own Matterhorn but making a duplicate of the one in California was not feasible, so instead they revived the Space Mountain idea Walt had been enthusiastic about until his final days. The space ride eventually came to Disneyland in 1977 and it remains popular to this day.
In 1986, the Magic Eye Theater opened and showed audiences original 3-D films: Magic Journeys, a show themed around the imaginations of children that ran from 1986 to 2015; Captain EO, a 17-minute space opera starring Michael Jackson about a spaceship captain battling an evil queen (Angelica Huston) that was written by George Lucas, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, composed by James Horner and ran from 1986 to 1997; Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, starring Rick Moranis, Marcia Strassman, Robert Oliveri and Eric Idle, in which park visitors start out watching Wayne Szalinski receive the Inventor of the Year award and end up being accidentally shrunk by his machine. The Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-based movie ran from 1998 to 2010.
Speaking of George Lucas, 1987 saw the opening of the first Disneyland attraction to be based originally on a non-Disney intellectual property, Star Tours. This motion simulator based on the Star Wars film series took park guests on a trip to the forest moon of Endor while being unexpectedly caught in a battle between the New Republic and an Imperial Remnant Star Destroyer.
It was first proposed as an attraction based on the 1979 Disney film The Black Hole in which guests had control over the route they navigated, however high costs and the film’s poor box office performance caused that idea to be shelved. But it got unshelved pretty quickly once Disney proposed to make a deal with George Lucas to create a similar ride starring Star Wars characters instead. The ride was unsurprisingly very popular, with Industrial Light & Magic even producing the special effects seen in the simulators.
Star Tours lasted until 2010 and was replaced by a sequel attraction in 2011 called Star Tours – The Adventures Continue, this time with C-3PO and R2D2 transporting a rebel spy across the galaxy in 4 out of 21 randomly chosen story scenarios, making the ride always feel fresh if you experience it multiple times.
In 1995, Tomorrowland received another dramatic overhaul as several attractions were slated to either close or be remodeled. In the nineties alone, Mission to Mars, the Skyway, Captain EO, the Starcade, the Rocket Jets, the PeopleMover, Circarama and the Submarine Voyage all closed down. Tony Baxter and the Imagineers were especially sad that the Submarine Voyage would be gone and they came up with concepts for its revival that would be themed around upcoming Disney films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet, but those plans got scrapped when those movies proved unpopular. It wasn’t until Pixar’s Finding Nemo came out in 2003 that a submarine excursion started to sound exciting to Disney again, this time incorporating the underwater cast of the film and redubbed Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which opened in 2007 and is still in operation to this day.
Tomorrowland reopened in 1998 with a retro-futurist aesthetic in the vein of Jules Verne and inspired by the look of Discoveryland in Disneyland Paris. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience replaced Captain EO at Magic Eye Theater, Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port replaced Mission to Mars and other new attractions included Innoventions, a technology showcase based on the original EPCOT attraction in Walt Disney World and hosted by the robotic mayor of Tomorrowland Tom Morrow, not to mention the high-speed thrill ride Rocket Rods which lasted three years before being converted into Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in 2005.
An interactive part-shooting gallery, part-dark ride based on the Toy Story films, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters originally opened in Florida as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in 1998. Park visitors are recruited by Star Command to defeat the evil emperor Zurg after being shrunk down to the size of an action figure. Buzz Lightyear is your commander and other Toy Story characters make appearances during your intergalactic mission as well.
Finally there is the Star Wars Launch Bay which opened in 2015 (the year The Force Awakens was released) as an exhibit for the famous sci-fi franchise and a meet and greet for various Star Wars characters. For a while on the second floor, you used to be able to visit the Super Hero HQ and meet Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man as well. Plus for a few years there was a Jedi Training Academy for aspiring young peace keepers but it closed in 2018. These days Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is where all the action is. You will see when I take you on a tour of that place.
That’s it for your Tomorrowland tour. Don’t forget to get something to eat at Red Rockett’s Pizza Port, The Spirit of Refreshment and Tomorrow Terrace and check out the shopping at the Tomorrowlanding, The Star Trader, Autopia’s Winner Circle and Little Green Men Store Command. And don’t forget to have a beautiful tomorrow!