I hope you all like Tomorrowland, because for the next eight weeks this will be the topic of my blogs. Why eight weeks? Because this land has seen more attractions and changes to its theming than any other area in the Magic Kingdom.
To cover this vast land, I will be taking an interesting approach. To begin with, I will discuss the attractions and architecture through approximately 1994. It was in this year that Tomorrowland began a major transformation. Once I complete the early years, I will begin again describing the newer attractions and the current look and feel of this land of the future. So when you finish today’s article, don’t write to tell me I’ve forgotten Alien Encounter or Stitch’s Great Escape. I’ll get there eventually. It will just take some time.
And one more thing… I have covered several of the Tomorrowland attractions in the past and I plan on reusing some of the same passages and photographs again. So if while reading my blogs you get the feeling of déjà vu, you really have read it before.
When I was a kid, Tomorrowland was my favorite land at Disneyland. Even before the 1966/67 reimagining of this land, I was fascinated with the offerings here. I remember touring Monsanto’s House of the Future and riding Richfield’s Autopia and thought they were great.
Sometime after 1959, I remember waiting an agonizing hour in line to ride in the General Dynamics’ Submarine Voyage and then another hour to ride the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail.
But real bliss came in the spring of 1968 when I came back home to California after living in Japan for over two years. Shortly after my return, my cousin and I were deemed old enough to visit Disneyland on our own. I was 15 and Steven was 13. We were dropped off at the Disneyland entrance by our parents early one morning and had an all new park to explore as things had changed dramatically since our last visit. All of the World’s Fair attractions had been added. Pirates of the Caribbean had opened. There was an all-new Tomorrowland to discover: Monsanto’s Adventure Thru Inner Space, AT&T’s new Circle-Vision Movie, McDonnell/Douglas’s Flight to the Moon, Goodyear’s PeopleMover, and best of all, GE’s Carousel of Progress (which was a free attraction in the days of ticket books).
At Disneyland, acreage is at a premium, so the Imagineers need to pack as much “wow” factor as they can into relatively small areas. This impressed me with Tomorrowland. Everywhere I looked something exciting was happening. The future was all around me and I savored every aspect of it. Tomorrowland was energetic. Tomorrowland was dynamic. Tomorrowland was vibrant. But most of all, Tomorrowland was boss to a 15 year old kid.
Although I was too young at this age to really appreciate Walt’s hand in things, I know now that Tomorrowland was his vision of a utopian society. He believed that corporate America could help solve people’s problems and he recruited their sponsorship to help finance his dreams. This can be seen by the many business names I mentioned in the paragraphs above.
As we know, the Magic Kingdom was modeled after Disneyland. With the exception of Liberty Square replacing New Orleans Square, all of the other lands would be reimagined for this new park and Tomorrowland was no exception. And just like Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom would open with an incomplete Tomorrowland. Here are two pictures I took in January, 1972, just three months after the park had opened.
In this first picture, we’re looking toward what will someday be the Astro Orbiters. On the right is the America the Beautiful attraction and on the left is the Flight to the Moon ride. In the middle of the picture is a construction wall.
This next picture was taken from the Skyway. The building to the right would someday house the If You Had Wings attraction. The center area would eventually be the home of the Tomorrowland Theater. And Carousel of Progress would be located to the left.
I wish I had more pictures of this era to share with you, but film was expensive on a Disneyland salary in 1972 and who wanted construction pictures back then. I wanted pictures of the finished product.
As I’ve shared in other blogs, the entrance to Tomorrowland was much different in the early years. Two water-spewing spires marked the beginning of the land of the future. When the wind was light, this was an impressive sight. Unfortunately, even the smallest breeze caused the water to spray those walking by.
The first picture below was taken at a later date than the second picture. You can tell because the large walls behind the spires are different. When Tomorrowland first opened, the walls were a solid blue color. Later they were given a mosaic design.
I took the second picture above not for the spires, but for the cast member. His popcorn vendor costume had debuted at the Magic Kingdom and would be coming to Disneyland soon. (This was exciting stuff to a CM back then.)
The first attraction I’ll be discussing today is Flight to the Moon. The Magic Kingdom version of this ride would be based on the second Disneyland iteration of this attraction. The first such attraction at Disneyland was called Rocket to the Moon and ran from 1955 until 1966. The attraction reopened after the Tomorrowland remodel and was titled Flight to the Moon. This would be the version that opened in the Magic Kingdom on December 24, 1971.
The experience began when a hostess escorted us into a preshow area called Spaceport Mission Control. Here she introduced us to Tom Morrow (voiced by George Walsh). While waiting for Flight 92 to finish final flight preparations, our hostess asked Mr. Morrow several short questions relevant to our flight. Mr. Morrow would then spend the next five minutes explaining the various operations being conducted here. Flight to the Moon was the very first attraction in which a live actor would carry on a conversation with an AA figure.
During the middle of Mr. Morrow’s orientation, alarms began to sound and red lights flashed. From the loud speakers we heard, “Emergency, emergency! Unauthorized approach on Runway Number 12!” Then, one by one, each monitor switched to a video of the crisis, only to discover it was an albatross coming in for a less than stellar landing. When things settle down, Mr. Morrow chuckles, “Well, at least this is one UFO we can identify.”
By the way, the Imagineers have included this historic albatross footage in the Mission: Space attraction at Epcot. Look for it on one of the monitors in the Mission Control section of the queue. It repeats every several minutes.
Once Mr. Morrow finished his tour, our hostess escorted everyone to the Lunar Transport (capacity 162) that would take us to the moon and back. Inside the spacecraft, the seats were located on four levels, positioned in a circular arrangement. There were two large, round viewing screens, one on the floor and one on the ceiling. These would be activated once the flight began, the lower screen showing guests where they had been and the upper where they were going. There were two more traditional monitors attached to the walls on each side of the cabin. These were used by the captain to display videos of interest.
(Note: The above picture of Mission Control and the photo showing the interior cabin are actually from the Mission to Mars attraction, but this attraction and Flight to the Moon were virtually indistinguishable from one another.)
As Flight 92 took off, hydraulic mechanisms beneath each seat deflated, causing guests to sink an inch lower in their seats. This was supposed to simulate the G-forces of acceleration. In 1971, it was a reasonable effect. Later in the flight, the hydraulics were reactivated, this time raising our seat an inch or so. This was supposed to make us believe we were experiencing weightlessness. Trust me. It didn’t work. It just felt like something was exerting pressure on your bottom. (Mission: Space at Epcot has accomplished both the acceleration and weightlessness effect much better.)
Eventually, Flight 92 made it to the moon, but we did not land. Instead, we were treated to a live interview with an astronaut currently stationed there for exploration. He told us about his space suit, described some of the landscape, and demonstrated the fun of being weightless while pointing out the dangers of such falderal.
After the interview concluded, we continued our trip around the moon, surveying the pockmarked surface below. When we passed into the dark side of the moon, flairs were launched to enable us to see the landscape beneath us.
Eventually, our tour of the moon concluded and we started our journey back to the Earth. But of course, one more adventure awaited us. With no warning, we passed through a shower of meteoroids. Lights flashed, alarms sounded, and our hydraulic seats lowered and raised several times. When things settled down, the captain told us that we took a few hits, but we’d make it home alright. It was all very exciting.
Our trip to the moon and back took eight minutes. It required a “D” ticket.
In case you were curious, the cast members working on Flight to the Moon were all female. This made perfect sense since all airline flight attendants (stewardesses) at that time were female.
Even though Flight to the Moon presented a time in the future when space travel to the lunar surface was common place, this attraction was already out of date when it opened. Man had landed on the moon four times by the time this attraction premiered at the Magic Kingdom. The moon had become ho-hum. Less than four years later, Flight to the Moon took its final voyage at the Magic Kingdom on April 15, 1975.
Mission to Mars filled the void left by Flight to the Moon and opened on June 7, 1975. In an effort to keep costs at a minimum, the basic ride facility was changed minimally.
Once again, our voyage began when a hostess directed us into the Mission Control Center. And once again, the lead technician (now Mr. Johnson) stood before the same bank of TV monitors and spoke to the waiting passengers. This time, our preflight briefing included information about zero-gravity manufacturing and the production of crystals in space. And just like in the Flight to the Moon briefing, an alarm sounded during the presentation and all monitors switched to see the same footage of an albatross landing at the space facility. Only this time, Mr. Johnson says, “Oh no, not again! Just as I thought. Somehow this silly bird trips the emergency system every time he comes in. And I think he knows the laugh's on us.” (Trust me. It was funny in the 1970’s.)
After the laughter died down, Mr. Johnson showed the waiting passengers actual NASA footage taken from aboard Skylab and pictures of Mars taken by Mariner 9. Of course, it was all given a Disney spin that made it applicable to the Mission to Mars attraction. When the five minute preshow completed, the hostess escorted everyone into one of the two theaters that would simulate Space Flight 295 aboard a DC-88 Space Liner.
Our blast off to Mars was very similar to our blast off to the moon. On the lower screen we saw the rocket’s flames and on the upper screen we saw a blue sky give way to a starry field. And our seat still sank an inch to simulate G-forces. However, a new element had been added to the story to help explain how we could make a trip to Mars in such a short amount of time. Our tour guide, Third Officer Collins, told us that we would be using a new method of space travel called a hyperspace-jump. This would allow us to travel vast distances in just a few seconds. During the hyperspace-jump, a psychedelic light display was projected on the upper and lower screens while the words “Hyperspace Penetration” blinked on the wall-mounted monitors. All the while, sci-fi sound effects were loudly pumped into the cabin. This was Disney’s version of a wormhole. Hey, this was state-of-the-art stuff at the time. LOL
With our hyperspace-jump complete, we now saw Mars looming nearby on the upper screen. As we flew closer, our ship dispatched several camera rocket drones. These would give us close-up views of the red planet while we maintained a safer distance above.
While exploring Olympus Mans, a huge volcano on the Martian surface, the ship was hit by a shower of meteoritic particles. An emergency was declared and the craft entered another hyperspace-jump for a quick trip back to Earth. Once we were out of danger, Third Officer Collins says, “Everything's all right now, but ah, that was a close call. Actually the chances are a million to one against meeting another emergency like that, so please fly with us another time. There's a lot more to see on Mars. Now, please stand by for touchdown.”
Unfortunately, there really wasn’t a lot more to see on Mars after all. By the mid to late 1980’s, this “D” ticket attraction was showing its age and sophisticated audiences were abandoning it for more high tech fare over at EPCOT Center’s Future World. Mr. Johnson welcomed his last passengers at the Magic Kingdom on October 4, 1993.
Luckily, Tom Morrow and Mr. Johnson have not been forgotten completely. From 1994 to 2009, an onboard TTA announcement could be heard which said, “Paging Mr. Morrow. Mr. Tom Morrow. Your party from Saturn has arrived. Please give them a ring." Today, a new TTA announcement says “Paging Mr. Morrow. Mr. Tom Morrow. Please contact Mr. Johnson in the control tower to confirm your flight to the moon.”
Over at Innoventions, a small, wiry robot has been seen in several locations and he is called Tom Morrow 2.0.
I have read that the original AudioAnimatronics figure that was used for Tom Morrow and Mr. Johnson was reused as S.I.R. in the Alien Encounter attraction. However, I have serious doubts about this. S.I.R. was an extremely sophisticated AA figure and could move in ways his predecessors could never imagine.
That’s it for Part One of my Tomorrowland series. Check back next Monday when I’ll explore other, early attractions in the land of the future.
The previous post in this blog was All Star Resorts -- A Relook.
The next post in this blog is Tomorrowland - Part Two.