When I was a kid in the ‘80s, Tomorrowland was easily my favorite place in The Magic Kingdom. Attractions like Space Mountain, If You Had Wings, and the People Mover drew many repeat trips during our visit. Another must-see was the Carousel of Progress with its rotating theater and catchy theme song “The Best Time of Your Life”. Originally conceived as Progressland for the 1964 New York World’s Fair under Walt Disney’s leadership, this show is the quintessential Disney experience. It’s still a part of Tomorrowland more than 50 years later, but one glaring issue brings it down a little. The final scene needs help!
The last significant upgrade to the Carousel of Progress occurred in 1993 with a new script and a return to the original theme song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. The largest update occurred with a brand new final scene. At the time, it showcased new technologies including a virtual reality video game and a voice-activated stove. These upgrades don’t seem so remarkable 23 years later, however. It’s still a fun scene, but the references need help. Instead of presenting an exciting future, it draws laughs and lots of head-scratching from new visitors.
I’ve developed five approaches that Disney could take to upgrade the conclusion to The Carousel of Progress. They range between minor edits and wholesale changes to the entire set-up. It’s easy to shoot for the moon with any wish list, but I’ve tried to consider the budgetary limits of a show that doesn’t grab huge crowds. Disney did just change the design of the building’s exterior, so they still care about this attraction. The attraction connects back to Walt, and it benefits the company to retain a show that received his input. They could market an upgraded final scene as continuing his legacy and even bring out their favorite quote to sell the change.
1. Minor Tweaks: The Car Phone Fix
The first method is the cheapest and simplest approach for Disney. The scene’s biggest laugh is when the daughter cites a car phone as the latest technology. She says this line: “You’re not going to tell us about the old days when you didn’t even have a car phone.” As someone who clearly remembers the wonders of this device, I understand the excitement in 1993. The simplest move would be re-recording that line to reference smart phones. We’d need a new actor to record the audio for the daughter, but that would be it. The grandpa does reference laser discs, so that could use a fix. We could also write that off as the old guy being way behind the times.
In a similar vein, just changing the virtual reality game would also pay dividends. Disney installed a flat screen TV more recently, but they didn’t change the simple game. It wouldn’t take a huge investment of time and money to upgrade the graphics and complexity of this video. If they don’t want to re-record all the audio, Disney could design the game to fit the dialogue. While neither of these tweaks would make a huge difference, it would be a start. We can’t underestimate how just a few significant changes might fix the dated feeling of this scene.
2. A Futuristic Look
Another option is revamping the set design, which doesn’t scream the future. Along with updating the devices and furniture, the Imagineers could use the windows in the background to sell an optimistic world on the move. This wouldn’t require a considerable shift in time or major script changes. The tweaks that I mentioned above could also help, but those issues would stand out less with a modern design. It’s telling that I remember very little about the décor.
The current final scene definitely offers the “open concept” kitchen that’s so common on HGTV today. Even so, it needs more to signify that we’re in a marvelous technological world. It’s a traditional holiday gathering for an upper-class family, but it needs something to jump off the stage. Unlike the other three scenes, there are no cuts to other rooms from within the house. This fact makes the setting even more important, and this space could use a lot of help.
3. This Show Needs a Script!
The first two methods focused on the surface level of the final scene. Now it’s time to get serious. The best way to improve the conclusion is to start from scratch. If Disney wants to use the same animatronics and sets, they could write a new script. The trick is hiring voice actors to perform the material. It would also still need to sync with the scene’s current elements. I like this idea because it removes most of the main issues. If possible, I’d find a way to minimize the joke of the burnt Christmas turkey. Of course, that would require more than just script changes.
What I love about Disney’s vintage attractions is the way they don’t fit into a conventional box. Even more popular rides like The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean don’t take the safe path. The Carousel of Progress is a goofy attraction, but the final scene veers too much into a cheesy mess. The feeling we’re left with is the dullness of the family. The other three scenes are hardly perfect, especially with their gender roles. Even so, they had a little oddness that’s missing from the end. A refreshed script would connect this scene better to the others and hopefully bring a little edge to this extremely standard American family.
4. A Distant Future
This is my favorite idea of the bunch, though it’s very unlikely. I’d love to see Disney blow up this scene and start over completely. Instead of trying to present today or the near future, why not fast forward a long way? It would essentially mirror the family in Horizons and its future of space travel, floating cities beneath the sea, and desert habitats. They could discuss all the opportunities that now exist because of technological advances. It would be a brilliant way to connect with the beloved EPCOT Center attraction and Walt’s idea of an optimistic future.
Another benefit of this choice is not worrying about the scene being out of date in 10 years. It’s hard to predict the small upgrades on the horizon, but it’s clear we won’t all be living in space anytime soon. I’d love to see Disney make a leap and try something grand. Few people are clamoring to keep the current scene; why not set a different standard? They could use the latest projection technology to present a believable city in the windows behind this scene. The family would still be celebrating the holidays, but in a stunning environment.
5. The Classic Version
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Disney could hearken back to the original Progressland and match the final scene from 1964 (or at least 1967). It wouldn’t be an exact replica; the many GE references would be replaced. Imagineers could also tweak any dated ideas of the time. Many people have a real interest in the New York World’s Fair and the Disney attractions that were part of it. Disney could make the Carousel of Progress a museum piece to show what Walt accomplished. They already renamed it Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, and this move would follow that set-up and honor the past through a modern update.
Ten years ago, I would not have guessed that the Carousel of Progress would still be operational in 2016. I was thrilled to introduce my daughters to a show that I loved as a kid. Even so, there’s room for improvement. Beyond just fixing the final scene, Disney needs to give more attention to the entire show. The décor, animatronics, and sound could use a boost. Painting the outside walls is a start, but there is a lot to do inside. Tomorrowland needs a refresh, and enhancing one of Walt’s favorite attractions would fit perfectly in that project. I’d love to see what Imagineering could do with even a modest budget to present a great big beautiful tomorrow once again.