Last week, Disney announced that Stitch’s Great Escape would move to seasonal operations at Walt Disney World. When you combine that news with rumors of a Wreck-It-Ralph attraction taking over that space, the choice makes sense. Stitch’s days in the Magic Kingdom are numbered. Purists may hope that Stitch’s departure could signal a return to Tomorrowland attractions that fit the theme. Unfortunately, Disney is more concerned with selling the brand in the parks. A Wreck-It-Ralph sequel is slated for 2018, so the ride makes sense. Accepting the rumor as fact, I’m here to propose a different kind of change: it’s time to split Tomorrowland.
Before discussing my proposed changes, let’s take a brief look back at Tomorrowland’s history in Florida. It opened in 1971 with only two attractions (Grand Prix Raceway and the Skyway) but added Flight to the Moon, the Circle-vision 360 theater, If You Had Wings, the Star Jets, Carousel of Progress, Space Mountain, and the WEDWay Peoplemover during the next four years. These attractions mostly focused on transportation and a future on the move. Walt’s idea of a “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” was alive in this energetic land. This was the Tomorrowland that became my favorite Magic Kingdom spot in the 1980s.
There were many changes over the years, particularly the New Tomorrowland update in 1994. The Timekeeper and ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter represented a shift towards a more fantastical style. Each succeeded as a unique show but also still fit within the retro theme. Everything changed with the arrival of Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in 1998. Admittedly, it’s a fun attraction that never gets old. Disney learned the wrong lessons from its success, however. They didn’t trust the idea of Tomorrowland on its own merits. Stitch’s Great Escape and the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor have recognizable characters but seem out of place.
I’m not here to just complain about Disney’s choices in Tomorrowland; that ship has sailed. With that fact in mind, I propose a thematic split within the futuristic land. In a similar vein to the different parts of Fantasyland, Disney should separate Tomorrowland into two distinct sections. The front section with the emphasis on characters will become the Playland. The name could use some help, but work with me here. The classic area with Space Mountain, Carousel of Progress, and others would become Discoveryland. This move would allow Disney to theme each land accordingly and create fewer contradictions with its theme.
Playland: A World of Fantasy
Many Disney rumors never see the light of day, but the Wreck-it-Ralph VR attraction makes a lot of sense. It could open shortly after the movie’s release and generate new interest in that area. My fantastical proposal for Playland also connects well to the rumor. The opening could occur at the same time as the thematic change. Since this ride would be interactive, it would connect well to Buzz Lightyear and the Laugh Floor. All three allow guests to be involved and not passively experience the attraction. Combining them into one mini-land makes perfect sense.
Disney also should invest the time and money to upgrade Buzz Lightyear to at least match the California version. They could also employ new effects to make it even more interactive. I’m not a huge fan of the Laugh Floor, but it fits better when separated from the rest of Tomorrowland. The other question is what to do about the People Mover. It would traverse both lands, but I’m okay with that happening. Everything still falls under the Tomorrowland umbrella, and the People Mover is the transportation system to show it all. I would like to see minor upgrades that remove the dead zones on the ride. It’s so relaxing and just needs a little more to shine.
Discoveryland: An Optimistic Future
I’ve always loved the idea of Tomorrowland as a place where anything is possible. There’s a reason that I enjoyed the original Epcot Center and loved the Tomorrowland film. It also connects to why I named this blog the Tomorrow Society. Despite much evidence to the contrary, I’m still optimistic about the potential for our future. I try not to feed the dark wolves and want that same feeling to emanate from my Tomorrowland. Grabbing the name of Disneyland Paris’ land is an easy sell. Discoveryland will be a place for wonder and discovery. The foundation is already in place; we just need to make a few edits to sell the concept.
The first necessary change is a serious update to the final scene in the Carousel of Progress. I discussed possible ways to fix that scene last month and really like the distant-future idea. Instead of showing our current technology or changes on the way, why not go further? This update would fit the Discoveryland theme and could thrive for years. The tone would be similar to Horizons’ second half, which remains futuristic. A smaller change would be enhancing the effects in Space Mountain. The last extensive refurb fixed the track but used ambient audio instead of on-ride sound. The ride also needs projection effects in a similar vein to the California and Paris versions. These minor upgrades would fit the theme and allow for easy future changes.
The key move to make Discoveryland click is replacing the Tomorrowland Speedway. The loud and environmentally unfriendly cars have no place in this land. There are two possible ways to make this spot work. The cheaper option is giving the Speedway a futuristic overlay. The vehicles would become electric cars with ultra-modern designs. The attraction would become entirely different at night and light up like a Tron race course. This update could use the basic course and would not take multiple years to complete. I’d prefer a complete overhaul and a new E Ticket attraction, but that seems unlikely in the next five years. Since I’m dreaming anyway, I’d love to see a new Omnimover in the spirit of Horizons but with modern technology.
Chad Emerson and I discussed another possibility during our recent podcast episode. Why not remove the Speedway and add a new entrance? This would help dramatically with traffic flow and allow Disney to build a spectacular introduction to Discoveryland. This entrance would spring from a new resort build on that side of the park. The Grand Californian is a good model for how it would work here. While I know this isn’t likely, it shows the potential for this large space. While kids still enjoy the Speedway, Disney could do so much more in that area.
Opportunities for Growth
Given the needs at the Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s Future World, it may seem odd to focus on Disney World’s most complete park. My idea is to build from strength and work to remove the rough patches. The other parks need more work, but there’s still room for improvement at the Magic Kingdom. Disney should be doing more than painting blue rocks in Tomorrowland. The opportunities are endless, and splitting the areas will help to focus Imagineering’s efforts. The last step is getting management to free up the dollars for these changes. Universal keeps pushing ahead, and Disney needs to answer in all four parks. The components are in place for a better Tomorrowland if Disney uses creative thinking. Let’s make this happen!