The Aesthetics of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland

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.

I think this is the framework and necessary foundation for a Tomorrowland that works. As for the attractions, all should follow the loose theme of humanity’s march of progress. How that is embodied in terms of specific attractions is up to smarter folks than me, but I think that’s a fairly open-ended rubric. If it were my call, I’d err on the side of ‘fantasy-progress’ to draw a clear distinction between Future World and Tomorrowland, and decrease the perception going forward that the future has caught up with Tomorrowland (except in limited cases, I don’t see this is a real problem).

While this would be my preference, the alternatives of lands like Discoveryland and, to a lesser extent, Port Discovery are pretty appealing, too. Same goes for the once-rumored Sci-Fi City. But my point is that I don’t think the “Tomorrowland Problem” is as one of concept so much as it is execution, especially from the perspective of aesthetics. But this is all really way beyond the scope of this article and better addressed by others…the point of this post is really just nice photos of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland accompanied by basic captions describing what’s in this photos.

To bring this around to the actual topic of this article, enter Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. Starting with, well, it’s main entrance. Conceived in the 1960s and based to a large extent on Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland, the entrance is flanked by twin towering monoliths that are sleek and bright. In fact, this whole area is sleek and bright. From the greener than green grass to the bright tile at the bottom of the waterway under the bridge to Tomorrowland, the visual feel of Tomorrowland’s entrance is bright without encroaching into garish. In terms of evoking “promise and progress,” I think the color palette does the former and the stylized design does the latter.

Prior to our visit to Tokyo Disneyland, I was most excited about seeing Tomorrowland due to its resemblance to the Magic Kingdom of my early childhood. Tokyo Disneyland never received the “New Tomorrowland” overhaul of 1994, so it still has the Star Jets and, more importantly to me, those gorgeous monoliths in the entrance. While I actually liked the aesthetics (and attractions) of New Tomorrowland (and it was the main Tomorrowland of my childhood, so I have the most nostalgia for it), I also like “old” Tomorrowland, so I was excited to step back into it in Tokyo. I’ll get to whether it lived up to my expectations in the conclusion…

Discerning fans who remember the Magic Kingdom’s ‘original’ Tomorrowland entrance will realize that the color palette of Tokyo Disneyland’s entrance isn’t the same. Tokyo Disneyland had its entrance “refreshed” in 2008 and received this paint job at that time. I’m not sure what the general reaction to this is, but I like it. I can’t pinpoint its influences, but what it evokes in me is a sense of futurism. It doesn’t look dated, it fits the land, and it’s uplifting. I consider that a resounding success.

The entry corridor containing Captain EO and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters continues this subtly futuristic architecture. This area works best with the minimalist approach. Space Mountain is the rightful draw at the end of the corridor, and excessive ornamentation along the way would just be distracting. Instead, the corridor functions basically as leading lines to Space Mountain.

Not much needs to be said for Space Mountain. The exterior has the classic, iconic design along with an entrance speedramp that is seemingly similar to what Disneyland used to have. On the inside, Space Mountain is similar to Disneyland’s, except with serious cosmetic differences in the queue. It was difficult to photograph, but I’d give the slight edge to the queue aesthetics of the Tokyo version over the Disneyland version.

space-mountain-interior-queue-tokyo-disneyland copy

After you leave Space Mountain is where things start to fall apart. The biggest offenders are to the right. Unfortunately, these are the newest (and best attractions).

First up is Star Tours. Housed in a giant hangar (…of the future?), Star Tours looks cold and industrial. It was built after the park opened and it doesn’t match the clean lines and modern aesthetic found in much of the rest of Tomorrowland. I think it’s actually much better now than it was before the refurbishment to update it to Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, as some of its ‘clutter’ was removed and it given a more streamlined designed. It’s just more industrial than the theming of the rest of the land. There’s nothing especially wrong with this, and if this were the design of the entire land, I wouldn’t have any problem.

I would guess Pan Galactic Pizza Port is from roughly the same era as the original Star Tours. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid Solaronian (that’s a Tony Solaroni fan, for the uninitiated), but the restaurant has a decidedly 1990s-kitsch feel to it. If it and Star Tours were the only offenders, I’d probably be more inclined to give them a pass, as their aesthetics don’t clash all that egregiously with the original era of Tomorrowland.

Continuing further this way is Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. The newest building in Tomorrowland, it’s the one that makes the least thematic sense. Like Star Tours, it looks cool, but in this case, it’s as defeat was conceded in attempting any sort of visual semblance in Tokyo’s Tomorrowland and they just built something to house the monsters (…of the future?) that is straight out of Monstropolis. In terms of accuracy to the film, it looks good, but it would be a huge stretch to try to explain its visual continuity with the rest of Tomorrowland. (I’ll punt on the issue of monsters not being futuristic by saying I buy into the Pixar Unified Theory and leaving it at that…)

Heading the other direction towards the Star Jets, we again see the original Tomorrowland aesthetic. All is right with the world again. The Star Jets retain the iconic and familiar look of a US spacecraft (somewhat ironically, the attraction is sponsored by Japan Airlines) and just look good, even after all of this time.

Personally, I loved the signage and look of most things in this area. I don’t think it’s possible to have nostalgia for something you’ve experienced for the first time, but I will admit to being somewhat biased towards elements of history in the parks. With that said, I think some of the details through here toed the line on retro-futurism and “dated,” with some possibly coming down on the dated side.

That toeing of the line stops completely with the interior of Tomorrowland Terrace. Walt Disney World fans should recognize this building, outside and in, as Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. On the outside, it looks fine. Like many other things in Tokyo’s Tomorrowland, clean and bright. It’s position over the water is the only draw it needs for me, and stylistically, it reminds me a bit of the iconic Fallingwater, which is one of my favorite homes. Inside, is a totally different story. Everything from the carpet to the color scheme look terribly dated.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other dated details that drag down Tokyo’s Tomorrowland. I lack photos of most of these details (from shop signage to merchandise carts with a decidedly 1990s flair) since I typically don’t photograph the Disney theme parks with an eye towards writing articles like this. Instead, I’m photographing them for their photogenic qualities, so I purposefully avoid these details! Trust me, though, they’re there.

Overall, as much as I hate to say it, Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is a visual hodgepodge that didn’t live up to my expectations after the entrance. In fairness, my expectations for seeing Tokyo’s take on my favorite land (conceptually) were sky high. In terms of attractions, it might be the best land in Tokyo Disneyland, but in terms of aesthetics, it’s disjointed (it’s still far superior to Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, which is the worst of the bunch). The entrance lived up to my expectations, and demonstrates (in my opinion) the right way to refresh classic theme park architecture to keep it relevant over the years. The Star Jets and area surrounding it (excepting the inside of Tomorrowland Terrace) also still fit the overarching theme, but could use a similar refresh. Even Star Tours looks better following its recent refurbishment than it did when originally built. The rest seems as though it has been built without any sort of master plan or concern for how it all comes together.

“So what,” you might ask. In fairness, many theme park lands don’t have a single, distinct visual identity. Sub-lands that deviate from the look of the larger land in which they’re located are common, and don’t draw scorn. I think the critical distinction between a sub-land and Tokyo’s Tomorrowland is that sub-lands are by design, whereas Tokyo’s Tomorrowland is random. It’s more about when in time a specific sign or building was updated, and less about where that update is located. Moreover, I think Tomorrowland, more than any other land, requires something tying all of its visual elements together because it’s an inherently tougher sell and greater strain on guest’s imaginations. It’s much easier for a guest to conjure up a sense of “adventure” in Adventureland, because jungles and the Caribbean are places with which we’re familiar. Asking guests to conjure up “the future” requires a more nuanced approach and drawing on the underlying references that are there, but aren’t explicit. As we’ve seen with multiple redos to Tomorrowlands over the years, it’s very easy to fail at that from a design perspective, and I think you’re virtually guaranteed failure when a quick glance at the Tomorrowland shows stark contrasts that logically don’t fit together in any way. Of course, that’s just a failure in the overarching sense of design (and as mentioned, the individual attractions are great), but it is something–one of the very few things–that definitely has room for improvement in Tokyo Disneyland.

If you want to learn more about Tokyo Disney Resort, make sure to check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report. It contains a lot of photos and our thoughts on the parks.

Your Thoughts…

What do you think of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland based upon what you see here (or based upon what you’ve seen in person, if you have been)? What about the supposed “Tomorrowland Problem”? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

468 ad

8 Responses to “The Aesthetics of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland”

  1. Lori says:

    I don’t really have a problem with the pictures as shown, but if the carts, etc. aren’t matching the theming of the area, then it quits feeling Disney to me. Then again, while strolling around New Fantasyland I was VERY disturbed to be able to see Space Mountain. It’s such a shame when they let little theming issues detract from a storyline they have otherwise worked so hard in telling.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      It’s not that they don’t fit the theme of Tomorrowland, it’s that they look very dated in places.

      As for sightlines, that’s not normally a huge deal to me unless it’s a significant clash that something *could* have been done about. The biggest recent offender in this regard, I think, has been the Tangled Tower right next to Haunted Mansion. It seems that could have been concealed better with trees. Maybe it still will be…

      Cinderella Castle is visible from numerous parts of the park, and it certainly doesn’t fit Liberty Square, Frontierland, etc., but that doesn’t seem to bother many people. I don’t think seeing Space Mountain or the Contemporary off in the distance is really that big of a deal, either. It’s a really subjective thing, though.

  2. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the article/pictures. Didn’t you say in another post that Tokyo doesn’t allow tripods in the park? I know that’s a wide-angle lense, but I’m still impressed with your steady hand.

    (The EXIF Viewer extension for Chrome is pretty neat.)

  3. Greg Maletic says:

    It’s been about ten years since I last visited, but I think your assessment of Tomorrowland being a hodgepodge is correct. And I think that assessment can be applied to the entire Disneyland park. There is outstanding stuff there, no doubt, but the park as a whole doesn’t gel into being a cohesive place. It feels a bit like “Disney’s Greatest Hits” as you walk around, feeling like it was designed as a parade route first, a theme park second. Again, this is not to say that it doesn’t have outstanding attributes.

    Flat-out incredible photos, though! Tokyo Disneyland has never looked better.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I agree with you to an extent about Tokyo Disneyland, but I think that’s partly because I (and presumably you) visited Disneyland and Walt Disney World first. Little things like larger walkways make a big difference in how the park “feels” and because of those, I think it feels a little ‘colder’ than the other castle parks. Other things, like the lack of gradiation throughout the park (no curbs, etc.) also contribute to this, and while most people couldn’t pick out how this makes a difference, I think it does.

      Of course, there are counter-points to this. Critter Country is brilliant and the nameless sub-land in Adventureland is, too. I’d argue that other lands probably aren’t as ‘Greatest Hits’ as we might initially feel, but instead are just different. There are certainly examples that run contrary to my argument, but I think overall, Tokyo Disneyland is a great and well designed park. It definitely has room for improvement, but I think it has less room for improvement at present than any of the other three castle parks I’ve visited.

  4. I’ve visited Tokyo Disneyland a month ago. While yes, there are way too many visual themes in Tomorrowland, I feel that the inconsistency could also allow guests to reflect on the different ideas and visions of “future”. To me, this makes the area far more exciting and interesting than a Tomorrowland with a very cohesive theme of a single interpretation (Hong Kong Disneyland).

    The more “retro-futurist” side, with cleaner design and colours, also provides a more gentle transition towards Fantasyland.

    Cohesiveness is challenging for Tokyo Disneyland’s design, where all its themed areas are closely interconnected via several wide paths. I feel that Adventureland has the same issue, but as you’ve mentioned, it’s not as tricky as Tomorrowland.

  5. I think my nostalgia for Tokyo Disneyland clouds my judgement in assessing the thematic elements of any particular part of the park ;)

  6. Spokker says:

    Tokyo Disneyland reminded me of the Magic Kingdom, and I don’t have a very high regard for that park. One thing I noticed is that everything was clean. Even their version of Space Mountain was not caked in dirt like the Anaheim version constantly is.

    Others are correct that the theme is not consistent in Tokyo Disneyland. Regular Disneyland always had that problem too.

    DisneySea rectified this and remains the most thematically consistent theme park in the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>