Friday, February 17, 2006
Restoring Walt Disney's Disneyland: Tomorrowland
We all know Disneyland is not a museum, and yet the original park is very much a living tribute to Walt Disney and his personal creativity. It is a place where, in the future, new generations should be able to get an uncompromised idea of what his original vision, taste and aesthetics (and that of his collaborators) was like, no matter what happens to evolve the empire in other directions. Disneyland is filled with timeless art and ideas. These should not be discarded casually.
So though we all expect and welcome the lavish new E-Ticket attractions we are dreaming for under the new Lasseter-led creative program, many of us are also hoping to see a restoration of key details that once made the Disneyland experience complete.
In the last decade, we have lost some of the flavor and layering that filled Walt's vision for the Magic Kingdom, particularly in Tomorrowland. While many things have been successfully refreshed and restored for the 50th anniversary (The Enchanted Tiki Room, It's a Small World, etc.) and finally paint and maintenence have returned to the park after years of neglect, there is still a ways to go to bring the park back to its historic heights.
Here are some of the treasures I hope to see returned, and perhaps improved upon, as the park enters its second half-century:
The utopian, ultramodern design of 1967's New Tomorrowland, gleaming like a moonscape in stark white, black and cool shades of blue and silver, was unsucessfully updated in 1998 to reflect a bronzed Victorian/Vernian mechanical view of the future. While this was great at Disneyland Paris, where the concept was fully realized, it never gelled here in Anaheim, particularly as a layover to the modernist original.
A far more successful approach would have been to go the way of The Encounter restaurant (aka The Theme Building) at Los Angeles International Airport, which the Imagineers built out as an exaggerated homage to mid-century modernism, embracing its era and design rather than fighting against it. It is the Tomorrowland we should have received and the public would have relished.
In the last year, a cool bluish color scheme has returned to Tomorrowland, and gleaming white spires to Space Mountain (after years of molding in catpoo browns), a definite improvement that still does not go far enough to restore the vivid look of the "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" of Walt's day.
How wonderful it would be to see a return of the Rolly Crump modernist sculptures around Tomorrowland, such as the original Tomorrowland Terrace stage top, Mary Blair's handcrafted tile murals (one of which survives under a facade), blue sidewalks, white walls and colorful tropical vegetation. Those guys and gals had a great eye for color and design - - why waste it? This streamlined ultramodern view is still futuristic to our cluttered world.
More importantly, the weenie in the center of Tomorrowland, as Ken has so accurately described it, is missing-in-action. And the infrastructure of once-thrilling rides were left to rot in full view. The Rocket Jets that spun high above Tomorrowland were revamped into a twirling compromised tshatchke with no purpose or beauty. The PeopleMover (later Rocket Rods) track sits deserted below it, the Skyway above is gone completely, the Motor Boat waterways run empty - - and until recently the Submarine Lagoon of "Liquid Space" sat abandoned too. What had been Walt Disney's "World on the Move," a multi-leveled salute to transportation and kinetic energy was killed by bottom-line accounteneering. The resulting view of the future was neglect, apocalypse, corporate gloom and doom.
Also gone, the amazing Carousel of Progress, the House of the Future, the wonders of CircleVision and the thrilling psychedelic trip into Inner Space - once the "Pirates" adventure of Tomorrowland. While Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear made charming new additions, Innoventions and Honey I Shrunk the Audience fizzled in concept and execution. The one truly compelling and futuristic recent exhibit, Honda's ASIMO protoype robot, is hidden in a slapdash tentshow on the second level of a once fabulous Carousel Theatre.
Walt Disney World still has Walt's original Carousel of Progress show and has been trying to close it for years. Why not return it home to Disneyland, giving the second floor to an improved Innoventions or ASIMO exhibit? Why not gut Honey and Pizza Port to bring back an enhanced Adventure Thru Inner Space?
Tomorrowland's apocalypse is the elephant-in-the-room at Disneyland. It should be fixed immediately - - and before any new expansion or additions. This decay impacts the guest's experience and memory of the park. The imminent return of Submarine Voyage and new Monorail trains will help get the ball rolling. Why not drop the other shoe and revive the entire land at the same time? It would be a marketing coup.
Once the most popular land - Tomorrowland could be once again be a showplace of the park with the return of the following essential elements:
* Rocket Jets - - high on the platform as Tomorrowland's weenie (where Walt Disney himself placed it on a napkin sketch) - clearing the entry of the replacement Astro-Orbitor (which can go into storage for Shanghai Disneyland or something). The infrastructure for the original ride is still extant.
* PeopleMover - - or a suitable replacement on the fabulous track around and through Tomorrowland. Hey, those mod travel pods on the island in The Incredibles would look great on that track - and compliment Tomorrowland's classic design... The Incredi-Pods, perhaps? The infrastructure for this ride also still exists.
* Skyway - - One of the most missed attractions at DL. It was a blast to soar over the park and through the mighty Matterhorn. Easily replaced into the Disneyland skyscape, with the Fantasyland chalet still extant and waiting for gondolas.
* Adventure Thru Inner Space - - This was a truly original, esoteric, psychedelic shrinking experience unlike anything at the park. With new effects technology, and Paul Frees' melodramatic narration, still a great storyline and concept for today.
* Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress - - the thematic center of Walt's view of optimistic corporate futurism. Freshen it up - maybe with an Apple sponsorship?
* Mary Blair's murals - - true art should never be destroyed.
* The silver solar panels at Tomorrowland's entrance (currently a sparkly cream color for some reason)
Other less important things that would be great to see in a revamped Tomorrowland:
* Aquatopia - as a replacement for Motor Boat Cruise?
* A new version of Flying Saucers?
* A new House of the Future?
* A campy new space-age Kids of the Kingdom show at Tomorrowland Terrace?
* Nautilus style submarines, like those formerly at WDW? A tribute to Walt's classic 20,000 Leagues and Harper Goff's fabulous submarine design?
* A Bellagio-style dancing-waters fountain extravangana at the entrance to Tomorrowland (where the Astro-Orbitor is now)?
* Animated murals on Sony Jumbotron screens?
What needs to go:
* Astro-Orbitor - -clogs the entrance to Tomorrowland.
* Observatron - the junk sculpture made from the husk of Rocket Jets.
* The Wet Marble - - leftover from the failed Cosmic Waves fountain.
* Honey, I Shrunk the Audience - bo-ring! And unpopular.
* Innoventions in its current form - ugly and boring (except for the marvelous ASIMO).
* The ugly space murals.
* Any trace of gold, bronze, brown etc. - -TL 1998 remnants, as well as the current warm/cool walkway color scheme.
* Agrifuture - lettuce as decor?... no thanks.
It can still be a Great, Big Beautiful Tomorrow with great new ideas, but before the additions, once must step back to go forward with taste and style! Walt Disney's modernist future is what people want to see at Disneyland.