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A Look Back at Tomorrowland on the Brink of a New Age

A Look Back at Tomorrowland on the Brink of a New Age

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As we celebrate the full and official opening of TRON Lightcycle Run, let’s look back on the Tomorrowland of the past and look ahead to the future.

Tomorrowland’s Disneyland Origins

Credit: D23 Archives

The origins of Tomorrowland come from Walt’s original park: Disneyland. His dream was to create a “world of tomorrow” focused on innovation and progress. The world of tomorrow would include moving sidewalks, suspended monorails, and other unique and cutting edge forms of transportation, a system in which Walt was very much interested. The world of Tomorrowland was to be set in 1986, a date far off but not too unattainable for guests to imagine in the 1950s.

Tomorrowland was the last land to complete construction at Disneyland and was not quite ready to open with the rest of the park. Upon its opening, Walt Disney dedicated Tomorrowland as “A vista into the world of wondrous ideas, signifying man’s achievements…a step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventures, and ideals: the Atomic Age, the challenge of outer space, and the hope for a peaceful and unified world.”

Original attractions included those such as Rocket to the Moon, Autopia, Skyway Gondola, the monorail, Matterhorn Bobsled, and Submarine Voyage.

Credit: Disney

A futuristic land will always become outdated, however, as progress occurs in real time in the real world. Walt capitalized on the ideas and work of the 1964 New York World’s Fair to focus on reimagining the land. On July 2, 1967, seven months after Walt’s passing, a new Tomorrowland debuted at Disneyland as one of Walt’s last major projects. Imagineer Alan Coats reflected on this new land by sharing that “the new Tomorrowland was certainly an improvement over the old ‘yesterdayland’ as Walt called the original.

Looking back, we can see form the success of the World’s Fair that Walt was incorporating new technologies, transportation systems, and corporate involvement with the thought of EPCOT in mind.” New attractions in this refresh included the Peoplemover, Adventure Thru Inner Space, and Carousel of Progress.

In a time where America was captivated by the space race, Walt Disney and his team effectively designed a land where the average American could experience the rush and wonder of space exploration and modern technology alongside their families.

Credit: D23 Archives

Check out the video above that celebrates the 1967 Tomorrowland with Disney Legend Bob Gurr!

Original Tomorrowland in Walt Disney World

Credit: Disney

Tomorrowland in Walt Disney World opened alongside the park but with very few completed attractions and several snags along the way. During the first few months of the park’s opening, only The Grand Prix Raceway and Skyway to Fantasyland were available to guests. Circle-Vision 360 film “America the Beautiful” opened in late 1971 and If You Had Wings opened in 1972.

It wasn’t until almost three to four years after Disney World’s opening that Tomorrowland really began to take shape with attractions like Space Mountain, the Wedway People Mover, and the Carousel of Progress.

Credit: KtP

However, Disney World’s Tomorrowland ran into similar problems as Disneyland. Attractions like Flight to the Moon debuted, however, with minimal future focus as America had already landed astronauts on the moon at the time of its opening. It was updated to focus on Mars exploration to keep it fresh and exciting just a few short years after its opening.

With the goal of always chasing the future, Tomorrowland would constantly serve as a somewhat outdated look at the past’s predictions of the present. It was just not feasibly possible to keep the land set in a future-projecting manner. Enter the changes of the 1990s.

Tomorrowland Circa 1994

Credit: Monica

In the 1990s, the Imagineers worked hard to find a solution to the ever-present progress problem. They came up with an idea and design for a Tomorrowland the represents the possible future that never was. This “Jules Verne” flavor allowed for Imagineers to create and investigate attractions and experiences that represent futuristic elements without focusing on their true feasibility in our world.

With the 1994 overhaul of Tomorrowland, the land was designed as a spaceport city with each attraction unified as a hub or part of the city overall. Attractions like the Wedway Peoplemover were renamed and rethemed to become the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, now used as transportation to various locations in the space city and rethemed with new narration to better serve as the thread unifying the land together.

Astro Orbiter served as a symbol of intergalactic peace for the space city, the Convention Center for the town hosted the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, and the Carousel of Progress stood as an element of the space city’s historical society.

Changes and Additions in the New Milllenium

Credit: Susan

This change also opened the door to the possibility of including Disney intellectual property in the land. It was at this point that Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Span was added, an attraction themed from the incredibly successful 1990s Toy Story original film. From this point, additional IP focused on the “future that never was” such as Lilo and Stitch and Monsters, Inc. found their places in Tomorrowland.

Over the past several years, additional changes have been made to Tomorrowland’s attractions and overall aesthetic. Some of the 1990s additions have been changed to revert to a more “classic” take on tomorrow. The story of the starport city has fallen mostly to the wayside. A new Tomorrowland sign was installed at the main entrance to the land.

Just this past summer, the Peoplemover received a new audio refresh, changing the overall flavor of the attraction and adding in narration about the new TRON Lightcycle Run attraction. The Carousel of Progress also received a refresh in the summer of 2022 with new character outfits and visual touches.

TRON Lightcycle Run and the Future of Tomorrowland

Credit: KtP

The newest attraction to Tomorrowland, TRON Lightcycle Run, was announced at the D23 Expo on July 15, 2017. Construction began in early 2018 with the goal for the attraction to open for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021. As we all know all too well, several snags occurred in the construction of TRON including the COVID-19 pandemic that stalled construction. The attraction’s construction caused disruptions to other popular aspects of Disney World like the Walt Disney World Railroad.

As the 50th anniversary rolled around, it became clear that neither the railroad or TRON would be in operation. The railroad returned just before Christmas 2022 with TRON Lightcycle Run’s official opening day on April 4, 2023.

Credit: Disney

TRON Lightcycle Run brings with it a new look at the possibilities and future of Tomorrowland. Its place alongside the land’s original thrill ride, Space Mountain, is poetic in a sense. The two attractions represent Tomorrowland of the past and Tomorrowland of the future. As we look ahead to the possibilities for the land in the years to come, it is best to keep Walt’s own words in mind: “Disney will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”

What do you imagine for the long-term future of Tomorrowland? What changes to the land do you love? What attractions of days gone by do you miss? Share with us your thoughts and be sure to share this article with all of your friends who are looking forward to catching a ride on TRON in the days to come!

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