Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland
July 1, 2003
Most people regard Walt Disney as one of the masters of animation. What most people don’t remember is that he was also keenly interested in science and technology and how it would affect the future. He explored this fascination with a series of science based television programs that aired in the 1950s and mixed entertainment with education. This new 2-DVD set collects the series, known as Tomorrowland, and is a wonderful trip back to a bygone era.
Animation historian and film critic Leonard Maltin enthusiastically introduces each show and provides a little background on each one, putting them into their proper context. “Man in Space” (1959) examines man’s fascination with space travel. The program begins with a brief history of rocketry and explains the science of it in easy to understand language with the aid of animation. There is some vintage footage of early rocket tests in their infancy. What’s most surprising is how the theories put forth in this program anticipated future technology, like satellites and the space shuttle, which are so prevalent and have actually become reality. The highlight of “Man in Space” is an animated sequence depicting the launch of a four-stage rocket into space.
“Man and the Moon” (1955) traces the history of man’s fascination with the moon. The program also takes a look at how ancient civilizations viewed it and how it was depicted in literature, like Shakespeare for example. The show gets a little silly and whimsical at times with a song about the moon with all the words that rhyme with it. Dr. Wernher Von Braun, who appeared in the first program, is back and explains how man can travel to the moon through the creation of a space station (that looks suspiciously like the one in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey)! The highlight of this program is a re-enactment of what scientists thought a trip to the moon might be like, depicted through a mix of live-action and artwork.
“Mars and Beyond” aired in 1957 and features Walt Disney being introduced by a robot! This program takes a look at how early civilizations viewed the Earth’s place in the universe and how this view evolved over time. The focus soon shifts to the planet Mars and how it was viewed in literature, most famously by H.G. Wells and his science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds. This program contains the most animated sequences because it is the most speculative.
The second disc starts off with “Eyes in Outer Space” (1959) and examines how satellites in outer space could help observe and product weather patterns. Various experts explain how these patterns form, how they work, and how we measure them with modern technology.
“Our Friend the Atom” (1957) tells the story of atomic energy and even opens with footage from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Walt shows us the first atomic powered submarine and then proceeds to trace its roots. The program compares the unleashing of atomic power to the release of a vengeful genie from his bottle—in other words, a metaphor for great power contained in a small space.
Finally, “EPCOT” (1966) explores Walt’s vision for Disneyworld and EPCOT Center. The program has a particular poignancy as he died only two months after he made it. Looking at this program now, Disneyworld was (and is) an amazing accomplishment for its time. Walt’s created a vast amusement park for adults and children, shaped by his optimistic and idealistic worldview. Clearly, he was a genius, both in business (he knew exactly where to build Disneyworld in Florida where it would be accessible to the largest number of people) and what would later be known as infotainment with EPCOT Center, which he envisioned as a constantly changing and evolving with the times.
“The Optimistic Futurist: An Interview with Ray Bradbury” is an excellent conversation between the famous author and Leonard Maltin. Bradbury recalls his first meeting with Walt Disney and his impressions of the man. The author speaks warmly of the legendary entrepreneur and enthusiastically about the rise of science fiction in the 1950s. This extra perfectly captures the feeling of being a fly-on-the-wall of this fascinating discussion between these two men.
“Marty Sklar, Walt and EPCOT” features Maltin interviewing Sklar, who started working for Disney just as Disneyworld opened in Florida. He was instrumental on the creation of Tomorrowland with Walt and talks at length about the man’s vision for this part of the Magic Kingdom.
There is gallery of publicity artwork narrated by Maltin who talks briefly about how it was used. He returns on the gallery of behind-the-scenes stills and narrates over some of the pictures. His knowledge of Disney history is astounding. Finally, there is a gallery of storyboards and background artwork, proving yet again that the folks at Disney never threw anything away and now future generations can enjoy this treasure trove of memorabilia.
Tomorrowland is a fascinating look at a forgotten aspect of the Disney archives. It shows yet another side of Disney, one that looked towards the future with a refreshing idealism that has since eroded over time. This collection is rather timely in this sense—perhaps we could all use some of Disney’s infectious optimism as we look to the stars for some hint of what lies ahead.