January 10, 2011

Back to the Future: 1994 at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

The year: 1994. The mission: a remodel of the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland.

Love it or loathe it, upon the Magic Kingdom's opening in 1971, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom had a pretty sterile looking white palette. This was even before the massive Space Mountain entered the picture. There was soon If You Had Wings, a personal favorite, and the Wedway Peoplemover to round out the land. The feeling was fresh and contemporary but nothing futuristic aside from Flight to the Moon.

Above image from the amazing Vintage Disneyland Tickets

For the remake, the future was catching up with the Imagineers. So it would be a whole new alien world that would debut.

I couldn't wait for my next trip to see it- and I was not disappointed! Reusing the old Mission to Mars facility, the exciting Alien Encounter was a whole newform of thrill in the Disney lexicon. Mildly terrifying without much humor and clearly aiming for the teen audience. Add in a stateside version of Disneyland Paris's Le Visionarium, new "skins" on the existing buildings, fun props, great signage, and lots of neon, and it was a galaxy far far away from the serenity of opening day. Especially at night!

Thanks to the great Disney and More for the above image.

Unfortunately, time and new management has not been very kind to the Magic Kingdom's land of the future. The centerpiece attraction Alien Encounter gave way to the child friendly Stitch's Great Escape, and the Timekeeper attraction said goodbye, only to be replaced by the characters of Monsters Inc. Of course, the character invasion started years earlier when Wings and it look alike attractions were replaced by Buzz Lightyear. Could the success of Tron: Legacy lead us back to the future? One can only hope!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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