A trademark of the early Disney theme parks was Circle-vision 360°, which used nine large movie screens to place you inside the action. Circle-Vision’s normal use was for travelogues that spanned the world. This changed with the 1992 arrival of Disneyland Paris’ Le Visionarium, which employed the sci-fi premise of time travel. The ambitious presentation arrived at Disney World in November 1994 and included animatronics inside the theater. This version was called The Timekeeper, and it used voices of the late Robin Williams and Rhea Perlman in a slightly edited variation of the original movie. It fit perfectly within the redesigned Tomorrowland and was quite popular.
Williams was no stranger to Disney and its parks in the mid-‘90s. The most famous example was the genie in Aladdin, and that character appeared (with a different actor) at the stage show in California. He also starred with Walter Cronkite in the Back to Neverland film at the original animation tour in the Disney Hollywood Studios (then the Disney-MGM Studios). His zany humor matched Disney’s attempts to keep their parks from growing stale. He makes jokes about the Jamaican bobsled team and tries out his hip-hop voice, so there are a few challenges. Perlman was also a solid choice. She wasn’t as well-known as Williams but fit with the show’s style. Both veer sharply from traditional narrators and make the silliness work.
A Classic Sci-Fi Adventure
Perlman is the voice of 9-Eye, a robot with nine cameras that explains our ability to see all around us. Williams is the Timekeeper, our navigator through time. The accuracy of this robot’s calculations is not good. We’re nearly eaten by a dinosaur, land in a battle in Scotland, and eventually settle into 19th century France. The fast-paced show has a similar tone to Universal’s Back to the Future ride but without the motion sickness. Jules Verne (Michael Piccoli) also discovers 9-Eye and joins us for adventures to space and the future. There are impressive aerial shots and the expected Circle-vision moments in bobsleds and race cars. It’s the type of attraction that Disney once did so well but has largely moved away from recently.
Another interesting factor is the influence of steampunk in this show and the Discoveryland area at Disneyland Paris. Their version of Tomorrowland is striking and exposes the limitations in Florida. Sadly, ambitious plans to create a similar area here were scrapped. The Timekeeper could have marshaled in a grand expansion that wouldn’t need much updating. Instead of predicting the future, it would be a classic vision from thinkers like Verne. Instead, Tomorrowland is a mishmash of visual contradictions. This situation won’t change anytime soon; there are bigger fish to fry.
A Sad Conclusion
The Timekeeper closed in 2006, and it had operated seasonally for several years prior to that time. One factor was 9/11 since this show included shots of the World Trade Center. Disney also wanted to put more IP into the parks. The replacement was the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, a show with little emphasis on the future. It generates a few laughs but is hardly an upgrade. The need to connect the parks to movies is fine in theory, but that attraction should be in the Studios.
If The Timekeeper had to go, it deserved a better replacement. I’m hoping there’s still a chance for more unique shows to thrive, but that possibility is less likely in this current era. The Timekeeper lives on through Internet videos and our memories, and it reminds us that theme parks can do more than sell products.
Note: The site Walt Dated World provided some information for this article. It’s a great resource for checking out extinct attractions that remain in our memories.