The Evolution of Tomorrow into Today
In his first ever column for The Boardwalk Times. Nathan Houtz discusses the evolution of Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland has always been a place of futuristic optimism. Even underdeveloped opening day Tomorrowland at Disneyland in 1955 had its share of optimistic views of the possibilities of the future. Many fail to realize that Walt didn’t just intend to showcase the future, although Tomorrowland does do its fair share of that (ie. House of the Future, Innoventions, etc.), he also meant it as an inspiration to help influence that future. Many of the ideas Walt envisioned himself helping to bring to the world did not come to full fruition. EPCOT is not the urban community he envisioned it to be, nor is the people mover or the monorail the transportation of choice for overcrowded cities. However, Tomorrowland did and does continue to influence the future in many other ways.
Anyone who has visited Walt Disney World will almost certainly immediately think of the iconic monorail system. It is truly spectacular and unlike anything else in the world. When Disneyland’s monorail opened in 1959 Walt and many others saw them as the transport of the future, rather than just an attraction in a theme park. Plans to build monorail systems in cities around the world quickly materialized with incredible possibilities. Sadly, for Walt and all those who wished to change the world with this incredible technology, this did not come to fruition. A few cities currently operate various types of monorail systems, but they have never taken on the global change that many wished they would. This doesn’t mean that Walt’s Tomorrowland failed, quite the contrary. The system was the main transportation system for Walt Disney World when it opened. With larger cabins and incredible views of the entire resort area, the new system was an icon unlike its smaller Disneyland cousin. Think of all the various transportation systems in the world, I guarantee that you cannot name a system as iconic as the Walt Disney World monorail. Tomorrowland’s prediction of the monorail changing the world never happened in the way Walt thought it would, but it did happen. It became the most iconic transportation system since the steam train. That is no small feat, and is just one example of Tomorrowland changing the world.
Another area that Tomorrowland helped to change is in regards to simulated experiences. When Flight to the Moon opened at Disneyland it was one of the only places where aspiring young astronauts and aviators could experience what a flight to the moon might actually be like. Yes, it was a bit hokey and the effects don’t live up to current theme park standards, but it was unique. Years before man would actually land on the moon, guests could experience a simulated flight, something unheard of at the time. I would argue that Flight to the Moon inspired an entire generation of designers to create simulated experiences on grander scales. Flights of Passage at Animal Kingdom, Soarin’ in DCA and EPCOT, and even the simulated space shuttle experience at Kennedy Space Center in some small way owe something to Flight to the Moon for inspiring others to dream of better ways to simulate an otherwise impossible experience.
A more recent technological trend also owes its origins to Tomorrowland. I cannot even recall how many times I’ve been scrolling through my Facebook feed only to come across a 360-degree video. The ability to tilt or swipe my phone and look around the person taking the video anywhere in the world is such an incredibly empowering experience, but it’s not new by any means. America the Beautiful and Circarama in Tomorrowland showcased a very new technology at the time which is appropriately named: Circlevision 360. Many have no idea that this incredible film and projection technique had early development for Tomorrowland, but it did. For the first time people visiting Tomorrowland could experience these breathtaking views not just from one view point, but from many. It felt as if the guests were there experiencing it themselves. With the recent adaptation of 360 cameras and social media we have seen this incredible technology expanded into new frontiers that the technology then could only dream of, but it all owes some credit to Circlevision 360 and Tomorrowland for their pioneering work.
Now all of these Tomorrowland attractions have had an impact on the world in one way or another, but none has had quite the impact that the overall land has had. Before Tomorrowland the only places where you could see a showcase devoted to the future was at World’s Fairs. World’s Fairs were much different, however, then even Tomorrowland. It was never intended as just a showcase of future technologies. It was always intended as a place of education, innovation, and optimism. Optimism about the future at that time was difficult for many to have. The Cold War was beginning. Nuclear war seemed imminent. How could you get excited about plastic kitchens when the threat of imminent global extinction? Before Walt Disney’s Disneyland TV show brought the possibilities of the future to the world with the Tomorrowland series, it was extremely difficult for many Americans to be optimistic about what was to come. As the world watched Ward Kimball’s film explaining how in the future space travel was a possibility, optimism quickly overcame the fear. Tomorrowland the land only further enhanced this spirit of optimism.
Ironically one of the best attraction at encouraging this optimistic was created for the 1964 World’s Fair and only later moved to Tomorrowland. Carousel of Progress is a simple concept on paper. Follow the lives of a family living in different eras and see the ways that technology has improved their lives. This incredible glimpse at how technologies of the past have improved the lives of our ancestors is so simple and yet so effective. It was one of the star attractions at the powerhouse 1964 New York World’s fair, and when it came to Tomorrowland it quickly became one of the defining attractions for the land. Technology had the ability to improve our lives.
If technology could solve problems, why could it not change the dire political situation that those in the 1960’s and ’70s faced? This was the message that the people of that time needed to hear. Carousel of Progress and the rest of the land became inspirations for hope. This is the greatest accomplishment of Tomorrowland. It has inspired generations to welcome the future and its technological revolutions with open arms. Did Tomorrowland predict a smartphone where you could access information anywhere in the world? No. Did it inspire the people who would? Yes.
Nathan Houtz is a Columnist for the Boardwalk Times.