Over the last five weeks, I’ve provided you with a history of the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland up until 1994.
In case you missed the previous parts:
Part 1 - Tomorrowland An Overview - Flight to the Moon - Mission to Mars
Part 2 - Circle-Vision movies - If You Had Wings - Dream Flight
Part 3 - Skyway - Star Jets - WEDWay PeopleMover
Part 4 - Carousel of Progress.
Part 5 - Space Mountain and the Grand Prix Raceway
Today I’m going to take a look at this futuristic land from that date forward. But before I do this, let’s take a look back at Disneyland in its infancy.
The original Tomorrowland at Disneyland was supposed to represent the date 1986, the year Halley’s Comet would return. Long before 1986 arrived, this land received a major makeover and reopened in 1967 with an all-new vision of the future.
Shortly before Disneyland’s remodeled Tomorrowland debuted, planning had begun on the Magic Kingdom’s version of this land. In many ways, the ideas, concepts, and architecture mirrored its West Coast cousin. Yet both Tomorrowlands would soon be experiencing the same problem. They would become “Todayland” and soon “Yesterdayland.” Technology was greatly outpacing Disney’s ability to keep up with the times, not to mention their budget.
When planning began for Disneyland Paris, the Imagineers knew they needed to address this problem. Although Michael Eisner was originally against their plans, they eventually convinced him to create Discoveryland rather than another Tomorrowland. This new concept would feature many of the same attractions found at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, but with a new theme. Instead of a futuristic look at tomorrow, they would look back in time and create worlds envisioned by HG Wells and Jules Verne. In other words, they would create timeless architecture that didn’t need to be remodeled or replaced every ten years.
By the late 1980’s, the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland had become Yesterdayland. Peoplemovers could be found in airports, rendering the one found here commonplace. Space travel had become routine making Mission to Mars a ho-hum attraction. Jet travel was an everyday happening rendering Dreamflight a bore. And the CircleVision 360 movie did not excite the younger generation. Not to mention, the architecture was in many ways similar to Future World over at Epcot. Something needed to be done.
The Imagineers’ first thoughts were to create another Discoveryland. However, Euro Disney was hemorrhaging the company’s pocketbooks at that time and a less expensive alternative needed to be found. To that end, they came up with an idea for a futuristic city. One that might have existed in the novels, movies, and comic books of the 1920’s and 30’s. And the name for this futuristic city would be “Tomorrowland.” Tomorrowland would be the interplanetary hub for space travelers and the home of the League of Planets.
(Have you ever wondered why only half of Tomorrowland received an extensive makeover? You can blame Disneyland Paris.)
One of the first things to be removed from the old Tomorrowland were the tall spires that flanked the entrance. These would be replaced with an elaborate sign announcing the arrival to this space port.
The next change to the entrance would be the addition of rock formations that look somewhat otherworldly. Nestled into this landscape are a couple of nondescript structures. We’re not quite sure if they are spacecraft, futuristic dwellings, or some type of machinery.
Embedded in the pavement are images of gears and sprockets. These help tell the story of a futuristic city as seen by visionaries of the past. This was a time when great thinkers could not imagine transistors, circuit boards, or wifi. They couldn’t bring their minds out of the machine age.
As with all good cities, Tomorrowland has a signpost announcing the many service organizations found in their community. At the top of the signpost are the following words, “The future that never was, is finally here.”
Some of the service signs read:
THE LOYAL ORDER OF LITTLE GREEN BEINGS
THE LEAGUE OF PLANETS
SLEEPLESS KNIGHTS OF THE MILKY WAY
GALACTIC ASSOCIATION OF RETIRED ALIENS
THE TOMORROWLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE WELCOMES YOU
Also near the entrance to this fine city are several posters advertising the convention facilities and some of the special events currently taking place in nearby venues. This first poster advertises the Tomorrowland Towers Hover-Hotel. The fine print tells us that they offer gravity and antigravity suites, helpful robot valets, easy access landing pads, and more.
This next poster is promoting the Space Home & Garden Show. Attending this event will educate you in the areas of interplanetary timeshare options, instant flower and vegetable gardens, and undersea townhouse communities.
Currently appearing in town is Leonard Burnedstar. He is conducting the Martian Pops Orchestra. Tonight’s performance includes “The Opus Outer Space Concerto in Ursa Minor.” Special guest stars include Sirius, Centauri, and Procyon.
Over at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café we see that Sonny Eclipse is headlining. We also learn that the Starlight Café is the first Earth restaurant franchise from outer space.
There are a few other posters in this area. Be sure to check them out and read the small print. They really help tell the backstory of Tomorrowland.
The most significant changes to Tomorrowland can be seen along the entrance corridor. The first picture below is an artist rendering of Tomorrowland’s main thoroughfare. The second is a picture I took recently. I’d say the architects and construction engineers did a pretty good job of capturing the Imagineers’ ideas.
Here are a few more pictures of this area. Keep in mind when viewing them, this area is supposed to represent a futuristic city as seen through the eyes of visionaries of the 1920’s and 30’s. Also try to remember how symmetrical the old Tomorrowland was. The buildings along this corridor were almost mirror images of each other. Today, they are anything but.
As I mentioned in Part One of this series, the Mission to Mars attraction was showing its age by the late 1980’s 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.
When Michael Eisner joined Disney as CEO in 1984, the company was creating bland movies and bland theme park attractions. The younger generation was keenly aware of this and was abandoning Disney for more edgy fare. Michael recalls a story where he overheard a teenage boy lament that he couldn’t wait until he was an adult so he could come to the Disney parks with his kids. In other words, Disney wasn’t cool unless it was being enjoyed by small children and their parents. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter would be one of the ways Eisner would try and combat this problem.
As I mentioned earlier, Tomorrowland was being transformed into a hub for interplanetary space travelers and the home to the League of Planets. The space left vacant by Mission to Mars would become the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center and play host to various exhibits and shows. Mention of this venue and an upcoming event can be seen on a nearby sign advertising a Space Collectibles Convention.
When guests arrived in the refurbished Tomorrowland, they found that an off-planet consumer company, X-S Tech (Excess Tech), was currently using the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center and giving demonstrations.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, or simply Alien Encounter, first opened on December 16, 1994. Soon after, Guest Relations received many complaints about the attraction. People felt that the lighthearted preshow did not adequately prepare the audience for the frightening nature of the main presentation. In addition, the storyline was difficult to follow because unrelenting screams drowned out the show. This prompted Eisner to close Alien Encounter for a reworking. After minor and major changes, it reopened on June 20, 1995.
The experience began in a holding area outside the Convention Center. Two metal doors would soon grant us access to the center’s lobby. Above the doors was a plaque with the following words:
The galaxy’s #1 authority in technological innovation invites you to experience its latest achievement
SEIZE THE FUTURE WITH X-S
This exhibition is made possible by the TOMORROWLAND CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
In the lobby, several futuristic television monitors were mounted overhead. While waiting to be welcomed by our host, these displayed other events taking place at the Convention Center. Some of these included:
CANIS MAJOR KENNEL CLUB
CHAMPIONSHIP PET SHOW
ZERO GRAVITY DOG FOOD
BECAUSE WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR SPACE PET
WHAT GOES DOWN MUST NOT COME UP
LEAGUE OF PLANETS
INTERSTELLAR DEBATE ON SPACE SCIENCE
MISSION TO MARS: HISTORY OR HOAX?
WITH PROFESSOR TOM MORROW
THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
PAN-GALACTIC STOCKHOLDERS MEETING
HOLOGRAPHIC TRANSMISSIONS FROM LUNAR DISNEYLAND
THE HAPPIEST PLACE OFF EARTH
Soon these advertisements were replaced with the face of an alien woman (played by Tyra Banks). She welcomed us to today’s demonstration and gave us a brief history of X-S Tech.
“We began many galactic years ago on a world quite distant from your own. From one small manufacturing plant, we’ve grown into the largest consumer-oriented research and development company in the universe. X-S Tech is number one in Electro Robotics, Cryo Cybernetics, Techno Surveillance, Planetary Restructuring, Genetic Engineering, and Hyperspatial Transport.”
We were then introduced to L.C. Clench (played by Jeffrey Jones), the current chairman of X-S Tech. He told us that his market research had discovered earth and its many eager customers. He went on to assure us that his company only wanted to help less fortunate planets and profits were a byproduct that they have had to learn to live with. He ended his speech with these chilling words: “If something can’t be done with X-S then it shouldn’t be done at all.”
As the light levels rose, another set of automatic doors opened and guests proceeded to the first observation area. Here we met Skippy, a cuddly six-legged creature with a protruding nose. We also met S.I.R. which we soon learned stood for Simulated Intelligence Robotics.
With an arrogantly evil tone, S.I.R. (voiced by Tim Curry) explained to us how he would painlessly transport Skippy from a chamber on the left side of the room to another on the right. S.I.R. then began pushing buttons and Skippy vanished into a cloud of smoke while in the background we heard his painful screams. When Skippy rematerialized in the second chamber, we saw that his fur was singed, his eyes were rolling, and sparks were arcing from his antenna. S.I.R. then said, “Oh, shut up, scruffy! You’re not burned; you’ve just got a healthy glow.”
S.I.R. next told us that the process could be reversed and pressed another button. Skippy again disappeared, but this time did not reappear in the first chamber. S.I.R. informed us that Skippy could be suspended… indefinitely.
With the demonstration complete, we moved to the main convention area for a larger example of the teleportation process. This time, L.C. Clench would be teleported from his home planet to Earth where he would be able to meet with all of us in person. Of course, things went horribly wrong and instead of transporting Clench, a carnivorous monster was thrust upon us. For the next several minutes our sense of sight was greatly reduced or non-existent as the creature flew around the room, walked on the backs of our chairs, breathed on our necks, and actually touched us with his tongue. We heard blood-curdling screams and bones crunching. We were even splattered with monster guts during the terrifying finale. The experience was truly frightening.
Each theatre held 162 guests and the entire presentation from the outer lobby to the finale was 18 minutes in length.
Many of these effects could be generated by the use of a new chair. Once seated, an “analysis module” lowered and surrounded our upper body. Within this analysis module was a state-of-the-art sound system that created crystal clear sound effects. Sub-woofers were positioned within the seat base. And more speakers were located around the room. Also found in the analysis module were the effects that allowed us to feel the creature’s breath and suffer the touch of his tongue.
Most teenagers and adults enjoyed Alien Encounter. It even had a cult following among some guests. They felt it was a refreshing change from the lighter fare offered in the rest of the Magic Kingdom. However, many parents had a different take on the attraction.
Disney posted numerous warning signs outside Alien Encounter telling parents that this attraction was not suitable for children under the age of twelve. Eventually, they forbid children under the age of seven or shorter than 48 inches tall from the show entirely. Cast members also did their best to dissuade those with little ones from entering. Yet parents continually ignored the warnings and took their kids where they had no business being. Numerous parents could not believe the Disney would create an attraction that wasn’t suitable for the entire family. Many a child left Alien Encounter in tears and too terrified to ride any other attraction. Vacations were ruined.
After eight years of complaints, Disney had had enough and closed Alien Encounter on October 12, 2003. I, for one, was sad to see it go.
When Disney spends a truckload of money on an attraction, they hope to get more than eight years use out of it. So when the Imagineers started brainstorming for a replacement idea, they wanted to come up with something that could reuse as much of the existing structure and hardware as possible. They were also looking for an attraction that would appeal to younger children. Thus, “Stitch’s Great Escape” was born and opened on November 16, 2004.
To accommodate this attraction, the backstory of Tomorrowland had to be altered somewhat. This building is no longer the Tomorrowland Interplanetary Convention Center but rather the Galactic Federation Prisoner Teleport Center. This can be seen on a plaque above the main entrance doors of this attraction.
Once inside the building, guests see the same bank of television monitors that were used in Alien Encounter (tweaked minimally). When they are activated, we are informed by the Grand Councilwoman and Captain Gantu that we have been recruited to be guards in the Galactic Federation.
The characters here are animated in the “flat” 2D style as was the movie “Lilo & Stitch.” I understand the logic of this. It creates continuity. But in today’s environment where characters are given a fuller, three-dimensional look (and are actually projected in 3D), these individuals look cartoonish.
When the initial orientation ends, we move to another briefing room where Sergeant C4703BK2704-90210 (“Sarge” voiced by Richard Kind) furthers our galactic prisoner education. Skippy is also present in chamber one.
Somehow Sarge looks suspiciously like S.I.R., only with a new mouth, chin and eyes hidden behind large glasses. He is also dressed in some sort of galactic law enforcement uniform to hide his former body.
Where S.I.R. was sinister, Sarge is an imbecile. The Imagineers created this character to lighten the mood and promote a comical situation. And Richard Kind’s voice is a perfect match for Sarge’s personality.
During this second briefing, a Level 1 criminal is captured. Referred to as “The Donut Guy,” he was apprehended for sucking all of the jelly out of jelly donuts. He is then beamed into the empty chamber onstage. Sarge scolds him and tells him he will be sent to his cell, this time with no milk. Once again, the similarity between the singed Skippy from Alien Encounter and The Donut Guy is remarkable.
Captain Gantu interrupts this encounter to tell us that a Level 3 prisoner has been captured and we must move to the High Security Level 3 Teleportation Chamber. Upon hearing this, Sarge “oils” himself.
As with the previous two rooms, the Level 3 Teleportation Chamber reused the Alien Encounter sets. The only noticeable differences are the addition of two laser canons and galactic lettering.
After everyone is seated and the DNA Scanners lowered around our bodies, the teleportation process begins and Stitch is beamed into a chamber located in the middle of the room. Of course, he escapes soon after and havoc ensues. As with Alien Encounter, much of the action takes place in the dark. Stitch bounces on our shoulders, touches us, and inflicts his chilidog breath on us. When the lights are on, the two laser cannons frantically try to hit and subdue Stitch as he spits on the audience. In the end, he escapes from the Teleportation Chamber and travels to Walt Disney World. Cameras capture him climbing Cinderella Castle before licking the camera lens. Having lost the Level 3 prisoner, Captain Gantu releases us and we exit into either Mickey's Star Traders or Merchant of Venus.
The reaction to Stitch’s Great Escape is mixed. Those who like or love the character Stitch are generally pleased with this attraction. Those that are ambivalent or don’t “get” Stitch, generally don’t like this replacement for Alien Encounter. I fall into this second camp.
I believe Disney has “dumbed” down Stitch’s Great Escape to an unacceptable level. I understand that the mature nature of Alien Encounter was causing management headaches, but Stitch’s Great Escape is too juvenile. And unfortunately, it did not really accomplish its goal of becoming a kid-friendly attraction. Many children are still terrified when thrust into extended darkness accompanied by loud noises. While experiencing this attraction the other day, I could hear several small children crying and some screaming in terror.
It was also after the opening of Stitch’s Great Escape that some people began grumbling about Tomorrowland becoming “Fantasyland 2.” Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin had opened nearby six years earlier and now this second attraction based on animated characters was invading what once had been a mecca for science fact and science fiction. Little did they know that in three more years, more cartoon characters would be taking up residence here.
Mickey’s Star Traders can be seen from the People Mover as it passes by this shop on its way to Space Mountain. Be sure to look at the art deco graphics that line the walls in this gift shop.
Merchant of Venus has continued the Stitch theme with several murals displaying animated aliens roaming about Tomorrowland. Stitch can also be seen sticking his head out of the ceiling. Both shops sell typical Disney souvenirs.
Well, that’s it for Part Six. Check back next week when I’ll be discussing The Timekeeper, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
The previous post in this blog was Tomorrowland - Part Five.
The next post in this blog is Tomorrowland - Part Seven.