Legacy Content

Jim Hill
Page 4 of 7

Part Three: Because Anaheim's tomorrow is delayed, Orlando gets invaded by aliens...

OUR STORY SO FAR: It was going to be the next big franchise for the Disney theme parks. A terrifying sit-down show that would dazzle audiences worldwide with its amazing use of 3D sound and in-theater physical effects.

That was the plan, anyway. In reality, Disney's "Alien Encounter" attraction was beset with problems from almost the moment it came off the drawing board. Chief among these was some senior Imagineers' concerns that a scary show built around 20th Century Fox's acid-drooling "Alien" monster really didn't belong in the company's theme parks.

At first, Disney CEO Michael Eisner refused to listen with these WED veterans. He initially sided with the young who'd dreamed up this scary new Tomorrowland attraction. That's when these senior Imagineers decided to plead their case to someone with considerable clout in Tinseltown: the legend behind the mega-hit "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" film series, George Lucas.

These Imagineers talked to George. George talked to Michael. And suddenly 20th Century Fox's movie monster was on the outside of the Magic Kingdom, looking in.

This left the Imagineers who'd cooked up "Alien Encounter" in a real quandary. Without a well-known movie monster to serve as the center of their show, would this proposed Tomorrowland attraction still even work? How much story exposition would WDI have to do to make sure that audiences knew exactly what they were dealing with as they sat -- strapped in -- in the dark?

As it turns out, a lot of exposition. Considerably more than the Imagineers had planned on. But we'll get to that shortly, folks. First, Disney Company management has to decide which of its theme parks gets the honor and the privilege of opening the very first version of "Alien Encounter" ....

Almost from the inception of the project, it had been assumed that the “Alien Encounter” show would open at Disneyland first as part of the "Tomorrowland 2055" project.

"Tomorrowland 2055." *Sigh* Just mentioning the name of this proposed Disneyland redo is enough to send some Imagineers into a spiraling depression. Championed by veteran Imagineers Bruce Gordon and Tony Baxter, "Tomorrowland 2055" wouldn't have just been a simple retheming of this side of the park. But -- rather -- an elaborate rethinking of the whole Tomorrowland concept.

Picture Disneyland in 2055. A time when a trip into the vast reaches of outer space is no big deal, like strolling 'round the block. An age when we take for granted that there's intelligent life elsewhere in the universal. How do we know for sure? Because quite of a few of these extraterrestrials have made the star trek to Anaheim and have set up shop here right in Tomorrowland.

I mean, take a gander at what used to be the Carousel of Progress. No, that's not a spinning electronics trade show. That -- my friend -- is a full-sized flying saucer that's vaguely reminiscent of the Mother Ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Were you to wander up that gangplank, you could sample the out-of-this-world entertainment presented at "Plectu's Fantastic Intergalactic Review."

Overhead, shiny steel catwalks allow guests access to a whole new level of Tomorrowland shops and restaurants. On the ground, odd crystalline shapes that glowed brightly and weirdly shaped other-worldly plants would have given this side of the park a truly exotic feel.

"Tomorrowland 2055" would have become a real showplace at Disneyland. It could have set a whole new standard for theming and storytelling at the Anaheim park by taking guests on a fantastic trip to the future. But what do we get instead? An economy class ticket to "Imagination and Beyond" aboard Tomorrowland 1998.

*Sigh* Now do you understand why Imagineers get depressed when you bring up "Tomorrowland 2055?

Don't get me wrong, folks. Baxter and his "Imagination and Beyond" team *DID* do the best they could with the money they had. And they did create a dazzling new entrance to Disneyland's Tomorrowland by bringing Disneyland - Paris's Orbitron over to Anaheim, placing it just off the hub and framing it with that rockwork.

But the loss of "Tomorrowland 2055" still pains the Imagineers. Mostly because this Disneyland redo seemed like a done deal. So much so that Disneyland actually closed its “Mission to Mars” attraction in November 1992 to make ready for the supposedly soon-to-begin radical revamp of this side of the park. The Imagineers even designed a new art deco exterior for the show building that was to house the Anaheim version of "Alien Encounter." (Those of you lucky enough to see "Theme Park Design: The Architecture of Reassurance" exhibit during its nationwide tour a year or so ago may recall the model for Disneyland's "Alien Encounter" show building. Its chief design feature was the stylized sculptures of oppressed workers that served as support columns for the exterior of the attraction. Insert your own over-worked Disneyland employee joke here.)

Sadly, Disneyland’s long planned "Tomorrowland 2055" project hit an unexpected snag in early 1993 when the Euro Disneyland resort began hemorrhaging money. Suddenly concerned about containing cost in all corners of the Disney Company, Eisner reportedly began balking at the idea of covering the projected cost of the elaborate Anaheim redo.

To be honest, "Plectu's Fantastic Intergalactic Revue" played a huge part in Eisner's decision not to go forward with "Tomorrowland 2055." Though Michael really liked a lot of the concepts Tony's team had cooked up for this Disneyland redo, Eisner just didn't have much enthusiasm for the extraterrestrial variety show the Imagineers wanted to stage inside the "Carousel of Progress" theater-go-round building.

Since Michael had no confidence in the Carousel show, he just couldn't bring himself to sign off on "Tomorrowland 2055." Particularly given its projected $200 million price tag. So he asked Tony and his team to scale back their plans until they came up with something more affordable for the Anaheim park.

Baxter's boys were obviously crushed when they got this news. Particularly when they learned that Eisner wanted to junk all of their witty "Tomorrowland 2055" design work in favor of a plan that would make this side of Disneyland look like a futuristic version of Montana. (A futuristic Montana?! To this day, there are still people at WDI who are puzzling over what Eisner was driving at when he asked for the next set of Tomorrowland revamp plans to look like that.)

As a result of all of the redesign work necessitated by Michael's bizarre request, the start of construction on Disneyland's new Tomorrowland got pushed back from the Fall of 1994 to the Spring of 1997. Tony's team tried to throw themselves into envisioning a futuristic Montana, but many members of the designing team fell into a severe funk -- depressed beyond belief by the cancellation of "Tomorrowland 2055."

The loss of this particular Disneyland redo remains a real sore point with many folks at WDI. Why for? Because "Tomorrowland 2055" came so close -- so tantalizingly close -- to becoming a reality. How close? The next time you're visiting "The Happiest Place on Earth," go into the Tomorrowland Terrace and look up at the ceiling. Pretty cool, eh?

This ceiling was actually done as a test for "Tomorrowland 2055," to see if the wild palette of colors and shapes WDI proposed using on this part of the park would work. A similar test was done on the old "Mission to Mars" show building, where one stylized window was retrofitted onto the exterior of the attraction.

Tests were also made for the atmospherics that would have been featured in "Tomorrowland 2055." Bruce Gordon commissioned a new soundtrack for the proposed revamp of the park. This futuristic music wittily combined old Tomorrowland favorites like Miracles from Molecules and Buddy Baker's Monorail March with memorable Epcot tunes like It's Fun to Be Free. Bruce even got this recording played regularly in Disneyland in the mid-1990s. The downside was that the only place you could really hear the entire "Tomorrowland 2055" soundtrack was if you stood inside the Tomorrowland men's room for an hour or so. Which made it kind of tough for female Disneyana fans to check out the new tunes. But I digress ...

The ceiling, that window and Bruce's soundtrack music weren't the only pieces of "Tomorrowland 2055" that actually made it into Disneyland. Take a look to the Moonliner. A recreation of that 1950s Tomorrowland icon also factored heavily into "2055" 's design plans. But not as some dinky drink dispenser. Picture that slick looking retro-rocket being three times as high as it is now, towering over Tomorrowland.

The Imagineers were so certain that the Moonliner would make a cool icon for "Tomorrowland 2055" that they actually had a logo made up for this Disneyland redo project that prominently featured the sleek finned spaceship. This image was then slapped on "Tomorrowland 2055" production team jackets, t-shirts and coffee mugs.

These in-house WDI promotional items for "Tomorrowland 2055" have now become highly prized items among Disneyana collectors. The Imagineers? They really don't seem to like seeing this stuff. It just brings back too many painful memories of a great thing that almost happened.