Tomorrowland has, from its inception, borrowed heavily from the popular imagination of the future. Through the late 1950s and into the ‘60s, culminating in the complete overhaul of Tomorrowland in 1967, WED had a great big beautiful tomorrow that was ensconced in the public’s mind to draw from. It was a future that people already understood and believed in, a future they could connect with. All WED had to do was build that tomorrow, today.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, the Interstate Highway System had not yet been built. Autopia modeled what would one day become our freeways and allowed guests the opportunity to experience this exciting new world. The Monsanto House of the Future was similar in many respects. It gave guests the ability to imagine themselves in the type of home they might have expected to be living in in the not too distant future.
As Tomorrowland continued to develop it drew heavily on the bold vision put forth as part of the space race. Tomorrowland was a place where the public could go and feel like they were a part of America’s greatest endeavor. Guests could make believe that they were the astronauts blasting into space and exploring the heavens. Space Mountain, Flight to the Moon and Mission to Mars have all responded to this formerly popular vision of the future.
Today, however, our vision for the future is not nearly so uniform, or positive. There is a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about our future. Today’s popular culture shows a future plagued by robot uprisings, undead armies, global warming and apocalypse. We see it in the movies and television we watch, the books we read, and even throughout our political debates there is an underlying sense of concern for the direction we’re currently heading in. This vision of the future does not mesh well with Tomorrowland’s, or Disney’s, overall outlook (with the possible exception of the forthcoming video game Epic Mickey.)
Because the popular perception of the future has shifted away from the utopian ideal that Tomorrowland was founded upon, it has felt lost, missing its unifying vision for what’s to come. The refurbished Tomorrowland that debuted a decade ago was presented without context; it failed to tell a compelling story that guests could buy into.
WDI has three options when it comes to the future of Tomorrowland: they can continue the current course without direction or destination, ensuring Tomorrowland becomes increasingly less relevant and less of a draw for guests; they can borrow from the popular culture and make Tomorrowland much darker than it is today, giving up its utopian make-believe for a gritty reality; or, WDI can present its own vision that addresses many of the problems we face today and try to return a sense of hope, excitement and optimism to the future.
As Disneyland's founder built the park on a foundation of optimism, all of us at Re-Imagineering will remain optimistic as well. Here's hoping WDI can deliver a great big beautiful Tomorrowland 4.0.
"We want our Utopia now."-Sinclair Lewis
Contributed by Re-Imagineering reader Grant Henninger
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