The visual identity of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is almost impossible to describe. Thanks to rolling changes in the land over the years without a wholesale overhaul to the overarching sense of design aesthetics and style of the land itself, you have what can best be described as a veritable World Showcase of “the future/alien/monster-stuff.” Except unlike the World Showcase in Epcot, it’s hard to say that the competing styles in Tokyo’s Tomorrowland bear any remote connection to realizable designs of the future. It’s not as if the entrance is 2028 Paris, Star Tours is 2035 Canada, and Monsters, Inc. Ride and Go Seek is 2054 Tokyo.
Rather, the competing elements of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland are all stylized pieces of real world architecture that invoke a sense of other-worldliness, which I suppose is as good of a surrogate as any for futuristic design…when done correctly. In a recent article, Foxxy at Passport 2 Dreams hit on this well. She does a much better job analyzing the distinct styles at play and defining the “Theme Architecture” present in Tomorrowland better than I can. Similarly, Brice Croskey over at Progressland covered Walt Disney World’s “New Tomorrowland” in great depth. Both articles should be required reading for anyone wishing to take an intellectual look at the supposed “Tomorrowland Problem.” Also, both of these articles can be generally applied to Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.
I can’t really offer much to the discussion concerning the Tomorrowland Problem, other than to say that I don’t think there is one. Having seen the various incarnations of Tomorrowland in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland, plus Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland (and I suppose Tokyo DisneySea’s Port Discovery), my take is that Foxxy and Brice are more or less right, and it’s not so much an inherent problem with Tomorrowland. I don’t believe that, as a concept, Tomorrowland is fatally flawed. I think that the execution of certain overhauls to the various Tomorrowlands have been fatally flawed, and that it’s very difficult to redo Tomorrowland in a piecemeal approach (something Tokyo demonstrates well). I don’t view the “future catching up to us” as an inescapable problem.
To me, the linchpin of success for any Tomorrowland is not the precise substance of its attractions and whether those remain relevant visions of the future, but it is in a land that evokes a romanticized sense of progress and optimism. For this, architecture that simply looks futuristic is necessary. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that certain styles of architecture embody themes of futurism and progress, regardless of their age. For example, despite being over 60 years old, I’d still describe the Kauffman Desert House as looking “modern.” (Contrarily, when I look at more recent examples of gothic revival, I still think, “that looks old.”) Combine elements of that style and other forward-thinking designs with clean, yet whimsical stylization, and you have a look that can’t be pinpointed as a real world design (which can be dated to a specific time-period), but will instead always conjure the feel of the “futurism” in the minds of guests. It’s not that it’s actually futuristic, it’s that it actually feels futuristic. It’s referential without explicit reference, and conjures exactly what it’s intended to conjure. I would consider that a success for a Tomorrowland. (more…)