Has Disney decided to stop trying to chase the future and enter itself into the tomorrow that never came?
The new entrance way sign for Tomorrowland has gone up at Walt Disney World and its minimalist approach is a stark contrast to the twirling steampunk-lite approach of the previous welcome mat. The land itself is stuck in time as it represents almost nothing that says “Tomorrow” to you. Within its footprint things are rather bland to take in with the attractions being simply “ok” with the exception of fan favorites, Carousel of Progress (wonderfully old timey and don’t you dare touch it), Space Mountain and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority aka Peoplemover. After those we have a Monster Inc comedy show which tosses the land’s theme aside completely, a show building that recently housed a water-downed Stitch version of the far superior Alien Encounter, which is now just a meet and greet, a Speedway that spews gas fumes with nothing worth seeing along the path except the construction state of the upcoming TRON attraction and a dance party area. That’s pretty much it. Tommorowland is ripe for a re-do and while Tron does appear to be a big first step, what else should we expect? Besides it being drowned in IP because that is all that seems allowed to pass. The overall tone is the question at large and I think we get a lot from the new signage.
As you can see from the picture above, the aim is clean, minimalist with smooth lines. I read one comment that called it “hipster” and that could not be further from the reality. You actually may want to look much further back than recent trends to find, as usual, what was old is now new again. In this case though it was meant initially not only to be new, but beyond that. It was a peer at what was assumed to be the future.
Behold! The future…as told by 1960’s architecture at the TWA Flight Center at the JFK airport in New York. Smooth lines, clean colors, neatly arched contours. Scroll up and down to see the familiarity in the new Tomorrowland arch and what once was. You have to use your imagination a bit though and see that continue through the visuals of the land. We can look inside the flight center for more of this approach as well.
Again, we have the same feel. To further this approach we can look at one of the most influential films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. When Dr. Heywood Floyd readies himself for a flight to the moon to investigate the discovery of a monolith buried deep below its surface, he first must make a connection for his flight. The spaceport/airport he goes through sports the same look and feel of the TWA structure. TWA opened it’s doors in 1962 while Kubrick began principal photography of 2001 in late December of 1965. The production did not fully complete until 1968 which was the year the film would also be released. As a side-note, keep in mind that Kubrick made and released 2001 before we even set foot on the moon. Incredible.
You could construct that set in a show building just beyond the new archway and it would feel perfectly in place. Is this a sign of things to come? For many years Disney has tried to chase the future in its theme parks to present what could be. The never-ending challenge there is technology moves so rapidly that what seemed distant can be close-up in just 5-10 years. Before you know it the glimpse into the future that you spent millions on seems outdated within the a decade. Pieces like Tomorrowland, and even Epcot, may find lengthier success in either stretching so far that it provides further coverage OR assuming the setting of a jet set future that never took shape but always feels futuristic due to its visual design. The screenshots above from 2001 don’t feature any futuristic gadgets but it feels like a sci-fi film set many years from now by how it presents itself.
Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, like Kubrick’s 2001, is another example of sci-fi that has stayed ahead of the world it inhabits. Released 16 years ago, the tone and look of the film still work as a peek at the future. A much bleaker representation than what we see of Arthur C. Clarke’s words through the lens of Kubrick, but still effective. To achieve this, Spielberg brought together various creative people to form a “think tank” or “idea summit” to discuss not what MAY be but what WILL be. A “2054 Bible” was put together based on those meetings and to this day, the film still works visually as a future we have yet witnessed but at the same time feels incredibly recognizable. It lay just beyond the horizon. You can see it all coming together but you cannot say for certain if you will witness it in your lifetime. I guess those who still traverse Earth in 35 years will be the judges. If you think what you see in that film in unattainable, just think back, if you are old enough, to 1984. 35 years has passed since then and look at what surrounds you in terms of technology in just that short span of time.
Going back to Disney, is this where they embrace a future that may never be? Will that give Tomorrowland new life? An identity? All we have to go on is an archway and an attraction in the making but it’s finally a good step forward and sometimes moving forward is all you need to do to find what works best.