Tomorrow’s Tomorrowland

MiceChat has an amazing overview of the scope and scale of the new Star Wars project being added to Disneyland in Anaheim. Whatever they end up calling it (“Star Wars Land” is an unofficial name, apparently), it’s so much bigger than I thought it would be based on earlier descriptions.

The northwest corner of Disneyland has always been a little sleepy. Rivers of America eats up a giant chunk of real estate and the Big Thunder Ranch area has been relatively under-utilized for decades so when they said Star Wars was going in up there, it made a certain amount of sense. But this. This is stunning.

As a Disneyland aficionado from the time I was knee-high to Jiminy Cricket, seeing that much of the original park getting chopped (about a third of the Rivers of America and the north end of Tom Sawyer’s Island) along with the railroad getting its first major reroute since 1965 made me a little queasy. But I’m not one of those “Walt would never allow this” kind of Disneyland fan. I get it has to evolve and stay relevant. I just wish it could evolve and be relevant over Toontown or something (which I still think of as new even though it’s old enough to drink now).

But this isn’t about Star Wars land. What I want to talk about is the giant hairy question mark this hangs over aimless Tomorrowland.

When I was a kid, Tomorrowland was my favorite land (with New Orleans Square a close second). It was all white and shiny and clean and still held a fair amount of Walt’s bountiful optimism about the future. Fantasyland was about things that never happened but we wished they had and the rest of the lands were about an idealized past but Tomorrowland was about the way things could be. An idealized future. Today it’s not about that. Instead of a rocket to Mars and an adventure through inner-space we have Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours. The Carousel of Progress building is an elepant of a thing with a constant hodgepodge of vertically integrated entertainment experiences going in and out. There’s nothing at all futuristic about Autopia (maybe if Tesla sponsored it and all the cars were electric, but I digress) and the submarines have lost their exploratory zeal with a Finding Nemo overlay. I mean, really. What the hell is Tomorrowland about in the 21st Century? It’s an iconic area of the world’s most famous theme park with a highly descriptive name but no real theme of its own. A mess.

And whatever it’s supposed to be about, isn’t Star Wars land going to make it look even worse? Why will there be a Star Tours ride on the opposite side of the park? As I said, Tomorrowland wasn’t originally about science fiction. It was supposed to showcase the promise of tomorrow. The promise of human ingenuity. The Peoplemover is maybe the perfect example of that. The “ride” was basically a scale-built model demonstration of a mass-transit system suitable for dense city centers. That’s it. You got on and you got off and nothing much happened in between at about six miles per hour. But it was great. How can Disney get back to that ideal? Where a ride in which nothing happens in slow motion seemed like a good way to spend ten or fifteen minutes?

The problem with the future is it keeps coming faster and faster every year. Plus, there’s a distinct wariness in the public about the idea that technology will make our lives better. We don’t trust it thanks to things like Chernobyl and GMO hysteria and global climate change and corporations too focused on profits over human beings. The great big beautiful tomorrow Walt envisioned wasn’t just a dream away, it was a dream. Maybe we’re too cynical for a place called Tomorrowland in the 21st Century. Or maybe we just need someone to show some optimism again.

If I were King of Disneyland (and don’t think I haven’t daydreamed about that), I’d go all-in on Tomorrowland. Set it in the distant future. At least 100 years. Focus on how technology will be harnessed to solve the problems we face today and didn’t know were going to exist in 1955. Lean into the cleverness of real men and women on this planet, not the swashbuckling exploits of fictional characters (fish, droid, toy or otherwise). More than anything, I think that’s what Walt was trying to capture with Tomorrowland. We can do amazing things. We can be our own heroes. We can make the world better.

Tomorrowland should throw out all the fictional characters and licensed merchandise. Tear down yesterday’s tomorrow and build a new one for today.

But keep Space Mountain. Space Mountain is cool.

Originally published on Medium


With “The Incredibles,” Brad Bird advocated the notion that when all people are considered special, no one is. When those with certain abilities and gifts are not allowed to use them, everyone suffers. That’s the super-condensed version, of course. “Tomorrowland” has, at its core, the same message. The special ones, if given a chance, can make a great big beautiful tomorrow. Except this time, they need to allow themselves to do so.

When did we stop thinking about tomorrow with optimism and excitement? When did we become obsessed with an inevitable decline and start expending so much energy looking for signs of it everywhere? When did we start to act as though a lesser tomorrow was inevitable? When did we lose our confidence that we can always be better than we have been? And why do we find those who reject those notions of doom to be hopelessly naive? In Bird’s “Tomorrowland,” there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. In the real world, though, it’s so much more complicated. 

If I were to make a stab at it, I’d say Bird wants viewers of his new film to do two things. One, snap out of it. Remember when we saw great things ahead and start moving forward again. Two, just like “The Incredibles,” we need to let our special ones be special. Stop being so cynical and allow those with gifts and abilities do what they do best and build the future. Or, in the case of where we sometimes appear to be heading recently, save it. 

“Tomorrowland” is about optimism. It’s about rejecting fear and the notion of inevitable decline. It’s about embracing the potential of human imagination and running with it. In many ways, it channels Walt Disney himself. It’s not a perfect movie, but I think it is a good movie.