As the millennium came to an end, the future of the future began to look dicey. Due to a number of factors, the 1994 overlay of Tomorrowland was never actually completed. Some of the new attractions that debuted in that remodel were themselves closed or limited to seasonal operation. The Skyway was shuttered permanently and its peeling, mouldering building remains conspicuously empty to this day. As quality began to drop precipitously in the parks and the ranks of corporate management filled with incompetents and cost-slashing drones, rumors began to circulate that the Carousel itself was not long for this world.
Declining resort attendance was precipitated by the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the Carousel was shuttered soon after. Even the Orlando Sentinel noted the irony of closing an attraction so closely associated with Walt less than a month after his 100th birthday and during a major Disney advertising campaign centered around the centenary. Fans of the attraction, discouraged by a spate of classic ride closures and the blinkered intransigence of Paul Pressler and his cronies, feared the worst. The Carousel persisted, though, emerging in 2002 on the list of “seasonal” attractions, opening during peak periods and remaining closed throughout the rest of the year. Soon, and to the relief of many, the attraction returned to year-round operation. It remains open to this day, despite the constant swirling rumors of its impending doom.
And what of these rumors? While some go back several years, none have yet to prove true. They often refer to nebulous plans for new attractions earmarked for the Carousel‘s space – usually some variant of Disneyland’s old Flying Saucers attraction or other bumper car derived ride system. For a while, the prevailing rumor was that the ride would be based on the Little Green Men from Toy Story and themed to the inside of an arcade’s claw machine. While Imagineering has obviously revisited this ride system as evinced by the plans for Luigi’s Roamin’ Tires at California Adventure, plans for Tomorrowland seem to be on hold for now. Good thing too – more Toy Story in Tomorrowland would continue the much-bemoaned ‘toonification’ of the area as well as the relentless surge of new Pixar attractions. The same could be said of the rumors that the Carousel would be replaced with an attraction based on The Incredibles. Allegedly slated to use a ride system centered around the Kuka robocoaster arm, its assumed that these plans have been scrapped due to Kuka’s 10-year exclusivity contract with Universal. Thankfully, it saves us the discussion of what The Incredibles has to do with Tomorrowland.
Despite the lack of an obvious successor, rumors about the closing of the Carousel persist. Recently a few more prominent message board denizens have been alluding to plans for the closure of the ride. While details appear to remain up in the air, the lack of a “when” and “why” don’t change the fact that management is apparently working on an exit strategy. These same rumors, however, indicate that the removal of the Carousel from Tomorrowland won’t be the end of the line for our animatronic heroes. It’s claimed that the attraction will be relocated – perhaps to Disneyland, perhaps to another location. But what would be the best venue for this classic show?
I’ve long believed that the proper location for the Carousel was EPCOT Center. Nearly a decade of fretting over the disposition of the Carousel has convinced me that its place in Tomorrowland is far too tenuous. Its theme no longer fits that of the land that surrounds it, and it’s obviously out of place. While I’m willing to fight to keep the Carousel operating in a Disney park, it doesn’t make much sense to wage a war to keep it in Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland.
Walt Disney intended Tomorrowland to be a showcase for inspirational ideas about humanity’s future, not a science fiction cartoon playground. Yet maintaining such a concept requires constant vigilance and investment – something that hasn’t been a hallmark of the Disney company since at least 1994. I feel, however, that the presence of EPCOT Center on the Florida property gives Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland a bit of leeway to veer towards the fantastic. As it was built to embrace the same principles that guided Walt’s Tomorrowland, the logical location for a show like Carousel of Progress would be EPCOT Center.
EPCOT contains an area devoted to the same purpose for which the Carousel was created – Innoventions too was built as a sponsor-driven showcase for consumer technologies. Yet the difference between the two attractions shows the stark contrast between the efficacy of Walt’s showmanship and the mundane conventionality of Imagineering’s recent past. Innoventions has all the charm and staying power of a trade show exhibit – in fact, they seem to be trade show exhibits – while the Carousel remains the longest-playing stage show in American history long after its original sponsor and purpose lapsed.
What better way to revive Innoventions than to place Carousel of Progress as its finale? After seeing the exhibits and discovering the technology that will fuel the ‘homes of the future’, guests could see where they’ve come from and, eventually, where they will go. The availability of sponsorship money could allow for frequent updates for the final scene; surely several companies would chip in some cash to have their products featured in the Carousel family’s future household. It’s a plan that would both add some needed showmanship to Innoventions and provide a needed touchstone to Walt’s history.
And, if you’ll indulge me, I have a blue sky proposal as well. Currently there’s an empty pavilion in Future World that needs an attraction. The former Wonders of Life building has a large, empty central space with attractions housed in adjacently attached show buildings. This gives a certain flexibility to the space, and allows it to serve as the hub for several different attractions. It would be the perfect venue for returning a much needed theme of futurism to EPCOT Center.
I would propose an attraction in three acts. While guests could enter and move around at will, the optimal experience would begin with the Carousel of Progress. A new show building would have to be built off of the main pavilion, housing the theater itself. The show could remain much as it is now, taking guests from the start of the modern age – around 1900 – to the near future. A narrative upgrade could emphasize various themes of technology and communication and how it affected the everyday lives of average citizens.
Following the Carousel, guests would enter a revised version of Innoventions. Taking up the central area of the domed pavilion, the “Road to Tomorrow” would guide guests in a logical progression past interactive displays showcasing the technologies that will soon be affecting both their home lives and society at large. This presentation would be far more holistic and comprehensible than the current attraction, which occupies a scattershot layout throughout the four buildings in central Future World. It would also allow those buildings to be more efficiently used – for either foodservice or retail space, exhibits themed to the pavilions themselves like the former CommuniCore, or even for demolition to allow for a central open space and garden complex as in the abandoned Project Gemini.
This final option I favor more and more as time passes, as the current Innoventions complex is a stifling and claustrophobic mishmash that both precludes logical guest traffic flows and obstructs arriving guests from viewing the surrounding pavilions. They’re also unnecessarily large – built with an unused second floor for a planned WEDWAY addition that never arrived, they could easily be downscaled. Management need not worry – the current food and retail locations could be rebuild in smaller, outlying buildings utilizing green-friendly construction which would neither interrupt crowd flow or restrict sightlines.
The finale of my proposed pavilion should come as no surprise to inveterate EPCOT obsessives – a revival of Horizons. This much-loved ride closed in 1999 but has been mourned ever since, with a die-hard fanbase continuing a vigil unparalleled amongst most defunct attractions. A revised edition of this epic dark ride would serve as a suitable conclusion and the grandest of grand finales for a Carousel – Innoventions - Horizons trifecta. As the original iteration of the attraction was specifically intended as a sequel of sorts for the Carousel of Progress, it would make perfect sense to have them presented in tandem. It would also revisit the past and present, and take guests into the future beyond what is presented in Innoventions. Breakthroughs in technology since Horizons was created in 1983 would allow for a more immersive presentation as well as a finale that lived up to Imagineering’s promises far more than that original version.
Sadly, even Tiki Gods have no influence over Disney spending decisions so I doubt WDI will be knocking at my door anytime soon to avail themselves of my brilliant notions. And if rumors for the Carousel‘s removal prove true there’s no promise it will ever re-emerge. Fans can only put their hope in John Lasseter and others who now hold influence, in the hope that their allegiance to Walt Disney himself will ensure that they fight to save one of his personal creations. Yet their love of Disneyland and apparent disdain for the Florida property almost guarantee that the show won’t be transferred to EPCOT, and certainly not in any large-scale fashion as I propose. So while we know something is in the works, we still don’t know what. Time will tell. And if any of you Disney folk out browsing the web want to email with a few insights, feel free…