Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom from 1971 to 1994:  Part one our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom from 1971 to 1994: Part one our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was like at Disneyland 16 years before, the one land where construction was delayed to focus on the rest of the park.  On opening day, only two attractions were open: Grand Prix Raceway and the Skyway to Fantasyland.  Two large show buildings were constructed, but the attractions inside were not ready.   

The left show building was the park’s most important building at park opening, housing the largest quick-service restaurant in the park when it opened, the Tomorrowland Terrace.  The park suffered from a lack of dining options; even if that side of the park did not have many attractions, guests flocked there to eat. An extensive set of restrooms and a gift shop separated the dining facility from the attraction side.  Once the attractions opened, guests had a choice when entering from the hub. 

They could experience Flight to the Moon on the left (opened December 24, 1971) or the Circlevision 360° theater showing America The Beautiful (November 1971 opening) on the right.  An extension of the building housing the 360° theater was under construction to eventually house the If You had Wings sponsored dark ride, which opened in 1972.  It was one of the park’s few free attractions during the attraction ticket era of the Magic Kingdom.  1973 saw another extension to the right building, with the Plaza Pavilion adding an outdoor dining venue and a shortcut to Main Street USA next to the central hub canal.

Guests entered the Flight to the Moon building and waited inside an air-conditioned room.  A panel counted down the time to the next Flight.  Once the three automatic doors opened, guests separated into three lanes and proceeded to the pre-show, Mission Control.  McDonnell-Douglas, aircraft, rockets, and spacecraft component manufacturer sponsored the attraction.

The pre-show was spectacular, with a reproduction of a Mission Control room filled with animatronics.  Mr. Morrow, our flight director, introduced our mission.

Flight to the Moon introduced the Theater in the Round attraction style.  Each theater consisted of four rings of seats, in a rising stadium-style, surrounding large circular projection screens on the floor and ceiling.  Those screens showed both points of view of our flight with additional viewports installed around the middle-level walls to display other content.

As the main show for the attraction was quite long, two identical theaters in the round were constructed side by side.  When guests leave the pre-show, the main showrooms are located at the end of the hallway after they turn left.  Automatic doors open the right doors, and guests proceeded inside.

When Flight to the Moon opened, it was already played out context-wise, as humanity had already gone to the Moon. There were already four successful missions where astronauts landed on the Moon, with a further two missions after the attraction opened.  The result is that the show’s tame experience, where it focused more on the scientific “how?” of going to the Moon rather than entertainment, hurt the attraction’s popularity.  Besides, the lack of interest that developed toward human-crewed flights to the Moon (except Apollo 13, where the dramatic events brought it extraordinary attention) meant that changes were necessary. 

Star Jets, the Peoplemover, Carousel of Progress, Mission to Mars and Space Mountain all opened in 1974-1975.

Change arrived in 1975 at Disneyland  (where Flight to the Moon opened in 1967) and the Magic Kingdom, when both attractions reopened as Mission to Mars.  The story was now that we were going to Mars, integrating a light science-fiction element.  To justify not having an 8-month long attraction, which is how long a regular space flight to Mars would take, a hyperspace warp similar to Star Wars Hyperspace travel was integrated into the story.  The mission controller was now Mr. Johnson, and a cast member interacted with him during the pre-show, which was groundbreaking and is still something incredible today.  One significant difference was that the theater’s seats were replaced by an early attempt at a motion simulator.  Air cushions filled and emptied to simulate vibrations and accelerations. 

The photo above appeared on this page originally:

The changes helped with the attraction’s popularity, but by the late 1980s, Mission to Mars again played out.  Even on busier days, low crowds made this an underused facility, combined with Tomorrowland aging appearance; massive change was coming to Disneyland and Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland’s.  The attraction quietly closed in 1992 at Disneyland and in October 1993 at the Magic Kingdom.

Disney explored a few options for a new Tomorrowland and wanted to add a more intense and scary element.  The Xenomorph, the creature from Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, was looked at as one way to integrate a known IP into an attraction.  While it would bring name recognition and effectively indicate to guests that the encounter inside is scary and inappropriate for kids, there was unease at bringing an R-rated series (based on its 1979 film and 1986 sequel) to Disney.  To that end, the idea was abandoned.  The Xenomorph and Ellen Ripley, the survivor of both movies, was integrated inside the Great Movie Ride at the Disney-MGM Studios in 1989, showing that ideas never go away completely at Disney.