26 July 2016

Sleepless Knights of the Milky Way

There is an argument to be made, especially after the expansion of Fantasyland was completed, that the Magic Kingdom is the most complete park in all of Walt Disney World. Making a quick check of the circuit, Epcot has needs both in Future World and around the lagoon of World Showcase, Disney’s Animal Kingdom continues to plus its experiences, but could definitely expand, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, in the midst of a massive renovation, has been in need of targeted growth and development for years. Looking around the Magic Kingdom, there is a lot of good to be seen. Great dining, wonderful classic and modern attractions, and stories can be found around every corner. If there is one area that could be pointed to as a blight on an otherwise stellar park, however, it would be Tomorrowland.

In fact, the problem with Tomorrowland might actually be terminal because it can’t answer the founding principle upon which it was built. That is to say that if you were to ask for a definition of Tomorrowland, there has never been a clear cut answer. The land has an identity crisis that isn’t easy to solve. There have been some brave attempts to do so over the years, not the least of which was the land’s complete overhaul in 1994, but nothing has ever stuck.

The inherent issue stems from how fast technology moves. While sixty years ago it was believed we’d have flying cars by now, the lack of flying cars doesn’t mean that things have sat still. Things we could only have dream of a decade ago are now commonplace in society today. Defining what tomorrow looks like means that there is a finite amount of time that you have before that image becomes one of two things, either it becomes true in the here and now or it begins to look like a farcical daydream. In terms of it becoming true, you’ve now turned at least some portion of your vision of tomorrow into a look at today. Remember the gag in Meet the Robinsons where they flew by the amusement park called Todayland? That’s what can happen with a realistic view of tomorrow.

The other idea is to look at the world of tomorrow through the lens of science fiction. Creating a world that could never be, or one that relies upon another theme to get us there. Some of the golden age of this futuristic imagery has a lot in common with steampunk aesthetics. Utilizing this pair of themes you can come up with some pretty far out ideas that would likely never come to pass in any way, shape or form. Of course, by blending two possible ideas, or finding a point at which they intersect, it means that you’ll have to cast aside some other clean and clear ideas or visions that could lend you credibility.

Creating this intersection of reality and daydream is just what Tomorrowland received as refurbishment infusion in 1994. There was a community of tomorrow, utilizing pieces of what we knew could be with fantastical visions of what could never be. To give Tomorrowland a sense of place and time, everything revolved around this idyllic community. Transportation lines, a lighting and power company, museum exhibits, and convention centers were all part of the world that guests could visit as part of the land’s attractions. There were even signs for restaurants, civic organizations, and housing options that were created solely to give Tomorrowland a lived-in, larger than life vibe.

Over time, however, much of these components have lost their sheen or been cast aside completely. There are out of place characters, I’m looking at you Monsters Inc., and even some of the aesthetics have begun to be shuffled off. The cornucopia of gears and robots for all occasions that once permeated the land have started disappearing. Tomorrowland has become a melting pot of various visions of future, and I don’t mean that in a good way. It no longer has a dedicated mission or vision that guides it and all of the components that live within its borders, but it is high time Tomorrowland did some strategic planning.

I’m not saying that it should all fall under one banner or a single IP. Let me pause here and say that as much as I love Star Wars, I am certainly glad that the land dedicated to it is going to be housed in a park more befitting the property than in the Magic Kingdom where each land should be filled with different stories. There are, however, plenty of stories to gleam attractions and theme from. Everything from Lilo and Stitch to TRON, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to WALL-E, there are places where each of these could find a home alongside the PeopleMover and Space Mountain or assist in defining the style and setting of Tomorrowland.

There isn’t an answer to how to define Tomorrowland, there are a number of answers. All of them could be right, but it takes guidance and a clear vision. It should look out of this world, but it shouldn’t be populated by the toys under our beds. It should be a place where ideas are exchanged, but not with yesterday’s news. Tomorrowland should always be reaching for our wildest dreams, both real and fanciful. With all that lies ahead for Walt Disney World, we are likely years away from ever seeing the land shine like the beacon of tomorrow it should be and deserves to be.

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