Oriental Land Co. announced an all-new Space Mountain and reimagining of the surrounding area that’s essentially a “New Tomorrowland” at Tokyo Disneyland. This post shares details and concept art, plus a rundown of the unprecedented era of expansion in Japan’s Disney parks. (Updated May 16, 2023.)
Back in Tokyo Disneyland, the large scale expansion slated opened with minimal fanfare; it was scheduled to debut prior to the Olympics, and with both delayed, that was technically still true. Most of this expansion is New Fantasyland, and most of that is a Beauty and the Beast mini-land. It also includes redevelopment and additions to both Tomorrowland and Toontown.
Among other things, this Fantasyland expansion is home to The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast, a mega E-Ticket attraction. The Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast is a trackless dark ride featuring magical cups that dance in rhythm to the animated film’s music as they take guests through scenes depicting the story of Belle and the Beast. Although totally different in nature, the budget for this E-Ticket family friendly dark ride is approximately on par with the new Space Mountain.
A lot of Tomorrowland was lost for the New Fantasyland additions. While this was mostly a “true” expansion of Tokyo Disneyland built on backstage facilities and a parking lot, to the extent any in-park facilities were lost, they were pretty much all in Tomorrowland. This is a topic we’ll circle back to, but we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves…
Turning back to the topic at hand, this all-new Space Mountain will also entail a reimagined plaza that will create a reimagined area of Tomorrowland. It is expected to open in 2027 and cost approximately 56 billion yen. Normally, that would be over $500 million USD; with the current strength of the dollar and weakness of the yen, it’s closed to $450 million.
According to OLC, the new Tomorrowland plaza will express the connection between Earth and the universe, representing an image of a future where humans are in harmony with nature. Guests will be able to enjoy moments of rest and relaxation in this plaza where various icons and other design elements create a sense of hope for the future.
The existing Space Mountain is an exhilarating, indoor roller coaster that takes guests on a high-speed joy ride through space, has been a favorite of guests since the Grand Opening of Tokyo Disneyland in 1983. The current ride is a clone of the California version of Space Mountain, with different aesthetics. The OG Space Mountain will close sometime in 2024.
Replacing this will be an entirely new Space Mountain that will maintain its original concept as an indoor roller coaster, but will have enhanced performance and immersive special effects that will give guests even more thrills on this exciting rocket ride. More on what that could mean in terms of the ride system below.
May 16, 2023 Update: Oriental Land Co. held the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Space Mountain attraction and its surrounding area in Tomorrowland today. This officially launches the renovation project, which will completely transform Space Mountain and its surrounding area according to OLC.
This newly developed plaza will create a reimagined area of Tomorrowland and is still expected to open in 2027. At the groundbreaking ceremony, construction for this project was officially set in motion by the President and COO of Oriental Land Co., Kenji Yoshida, and Chairman and CEO of OLC, Toshio Kagami.
The Space Mountain groundbreaking was held in the traditional Japanese style, with a ceremony, omiki and tamagushi offerings, and Shinto prayer for safe construction. This ceremony is known as jichinsai, and it’s performed to pay respect to the land and kami (gods), future prosperity, and purification to keep away evil spirits. Following this ritual, the actual groundbreaking is held with traditional wooden tools. (Similar elements of this can be experienced or observed at Shinto shrines throughout Japan.)
A few years ago, a large joint groundbreaking ceremony was held by Oriental Land Company and the Walt Disney Company at the planned development site for Fantasy Springs. Then CEO Bob Iger was present and one of the key officials who participated in the groundbreaking (pictured below). To our knowledge, no one from Disney was present at the Space Mountain groundbreaking. (To their credit, both Iger and Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro were present last month for Tokyo Disneyland’s 40th Anniversary.)
Construction walls are already up behind Space Mountain, which are visible from the monorail en route from Tokyo Disneyland to Bayside Station. A huge chunk of land appears to be earmarked for the project, replacing much of the park’s bus parking lot. (A lot of parking was already “lost” back there for the other recent expansions.)
The rumor is that a ride system similar to Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind will be used for the reimagined Space Mountain. That would explain both why so much bus parking is being dedicated to the project and also how the groundbreaking is occurring many months before Space Mountain is scheduled to permanently close in 2024–work will start first on the massive show building.
It would also explain the “reimagined” Space Mountain’s exorbitant price tag. For what it’s worth, we saw a larger-than-normal delegation from OLC and Walt Disney Attractions Japan touring EPCOT back when Cosmic Rewind opened. Don’t expect this to be a direct clone of that attraction, or even the underlying ride system. It seems more likely that Imagineering uses a similar Vekoma coaster for Space Mountain that doesn’t require the same footprint or as tall of a gravity building. Regardless, the “OmniCoaster” (as Imagineering has dubbed it) would be a great option for Space Mountain!
Another interesting tidbit is that on the same day as this groundbreaking ceremony, Universal Studios Japan announced that ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man’ attraction will close in early 2024. The more conspiratorial minds might question whether USJ closing such a hugely popular attraction is no coincidence, and a sign that the two companies have reached an agreement and Universal is ceding its Marvel rights in Japan, paving the way for the reimagined Space Mountain to feature that franchise.
We highly doubt it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not particularly popular in Japan, and although it’s unprecedented to close an attraction like Spider-Man in its prime, the better explanations are limited land and the Pokémon partnership (or maybe Minions, which also is absurdly popular in Japan and only has a small area at USJ).
The Space Mountain and Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man closures are almost certainly coincidental–the chances of them being related are probably under 1%. (Also, it’s not like USJ would be forced to close Spider-Man if a rights deal had been worked out.) We just wanted to get ahead of that speculation before people started connecting dots that are not there.
OLC has not announced whether the current Space Mountain will be demolished. Our original expectation was that the building would remain, but the interior would be gutted and replaced and a new flyover walkway will replace the current speedramp into the building based on the concept art.
We’ve heard “rumors” since that call this into question, but it remains our (totally uninformed) belief that the existing building will remain. After all, even if the Cosmic Rewind ride system is used, there’s no reason why the queue, load, unload, and launch can’t utilize the existing Space Mountain building. That is literally what happened with Cosmic Rewind and the old Universe of Energy.
Moreover, the concept art very much looks like Space Mountain with ornamentation affixed to the exterior. It just looks like the exterior in the concept art is a modified version of the current building, rather than a fresh build or rebuilt version of the ride. Who knows, though–the rumors suggest we’re wrong!
My first thought is that this resembles TRON Lightcycle Power Run with its swooping design and biomimicry features. The organic style and conceit of humanity in harmony with nature also loosely mirrors that of Tomorrowland at Shanghai Disneyland.
From the concept art, it appears Space Mountain and the surrounding area will have a more fluid design, which is at least somewhat odds with the current mid-century modern and Googie architecture of Tomorrowland. That coupled with the astronomical budget for what essentially amounts to a roller coaster replacement suggests to me that Tomorrowland as a whole is going to get a new look.
This also fits with the OLC long-term goal for Tokyo Disneyland to receive “area-based development for each themed land, to take place in stages, intended to leave a lasting impact.”
Personally, the prospect of that has me torn. I love the idea of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, in particular the main entry corridor that leads to Space Mountain. I suspect that many Walt Disney World and Disneyland fans of a certain age feel a similar fondness and nostalgia for this area of Tokyo Disneyland.
The core of this is the spires at the entrance to Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, which were the focal point for the U.S. versions of Tomorrowland prior to their 90s redos.
These twin towering monoliths are sleek and bright, with greener than green grass and beautifully-maintained tile at the bottom of the waterway under the bridge to Tomorrowland. The entrance to Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland simply oozes optimism. It’s still stunning.
The crisp, clean aesthetics of the bygone Tomorrowlands represent a better version of what now seems like a perpetually-dated and thematically-lacking corner of Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. I love the atmosphere in this area of Tokyo Disneyland, and have spent hours (literally) sitting on the benches in the image below, watching the lights dance on Space Mountain, listening to the waterfalls and background music.
To me, this successful sense of optimism is the linchpin of success for any Tomorrowland. It’s not so much 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 or innovative is necessary. Tomorrowland’s entrance passes that test with flying colors.
Certain styles of architecture embody themes of futurism and progress, regardless of their age. Despite being over 60 years old, I’d still describe both the Stahl House and Kauffman Desert House as looking sleek and modern. By contrast, more recent designs from the 1980s and 1990s look like time capsules of those decades, which are (part of) the problems these Tomorrowlands face.
It’s this wistfulness for that lost Tomorrowland that makes fans like me fond of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. It represents that superior design we’ve lost in Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Of course, you can’t go home again.
That’s not the only problem. It’s one thing to look at photos of Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in isolation and yearn for its “superior” style. That falls apart once you visit in person and see that Japan’s Tomorrowland has exactly the same problems as its U.S. relatives. It’s a design hodgepodge, featuring a variety of ill-fitting attractions and clashing styles.
After you leave Space Mountain is where things start to fall apart in Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.
First, we’ll head to the right. 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. There’s nothing especially wrong with its style, it just doesn’t match the rest of the land.
Across from that is my beloved Pan Galactic Pizza Port, among other things. This is all part of an area called “AstroZone,” which was built as a placemaking project alongside the original Star Tours to alleviate congestion. The official backstory is that aliens crashed and constructed a base from parts of their damaged spaceship to communicate with their home planet. This means a lot of satellites and other (at the time) futuristic space junk.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid Solaronian (Tony Solaroni is a Sonny Eclipse-like character who toils over a pizza machine all-day in a delightfully bizarre show with some interesting undertones), but the restaurant and its surrounding area has a decidedly 1990s-kitsch feel to it. Although this is “just a pizza place,” we will be devastated when it goes. We’ve made many great memories watching Tony Solaroni.
Continuing this way is Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. This is another newer addition to Tomorrowland, replacing Meet the World (also intended for EPCOT Center’s Japan pavilion). It makes virtually no 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. There is next to no chance of Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek seeing an aesthetic overhaul, but at least it’s far enough from the rest of Tomorrowland–and closer to World Bazaar, that it doesn’t stand out so much.
Heading the other direction from Space Mountain, a lot has already been addressed as part of the recent large scale expansion. Personally, I like the idea of updating this area and shrinking the size of Tomorrowland a bit for more Fantasyland.
The only losses on this side of Tomorrowland were Grand Circuit Raceway and Star Jets, and the woefully dated speedway wasn’t actually much of a loss. Tomorrowland was way too sprawling and disconnected before, and this helped tighten it up a bit. Tomorrowland Terrace is still long overdue for a visual overhaul, which will likely happen as part of this project. Hopefully it’s something akin to Plazma Ray’s Diner, a restaurant reimagining that happened a few years ago, on the other side of the land.
Ultimately, Tokyo Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is a visual hodgepodge that falls apart after the monoliths and main entrance corridor. In terms of attractions, it might be the best land in Tokyo Disneyland. In terms of aesthetics, it’s disjointed and dated. Rather than feeling futuristic, it very much comes across as a series of disconnected areas that were very obviously built in different eras.
My hope is that this ‘New Tomorrowland’ maintains the current entrance, which is timeless, and transitions from the clean mid-century modern lines into a more organic design by Space Mountain. My expectation is that it’ll be more of a wholesale overhaul, with the entire land given a fresh style that matches the biomimicry of the all-new Space Mountain and its surrounding plaza.
Honestly, if that’s what happens, we won’t complain. Sure, we’ll be saddened by the loss of the monoliths and Tony Solaroni, if either occur. However, we recognize that a distinct visual identity is important, and will be happy Tokyo Disneyland is getting something unique and custom-designed for that particular park.
Visiting a “Bizarro Magic Kingdom” offering a pristine time capsule of cloned elements from the U.S. parks is neat. But investments such as this, recent placemaking projects, and the large scale expansion help to give Tokyo Disneyland its own distinct identity. That should further solidify its position as the second-best Disney theme park on the planet, right behind its next-door neighbor, Tokyo DisneySea.
What do you think of this all-new Space Mountain and Tomorrowland reimagining plan? Disappointed this isn’t happening at Disneyland or Walt Disney World, or are you pleased with the stateside Tomorrowland styles? If you’ve been to Tokyo Disneyland, did you notice similarities to past versions of Tomorrowland from Florida and California? What about differences? Have you found yourself doing a double-take based on similarities or differences between other Disney theme parks? Any questions? Share your thoughts in the comments!