Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 15, 2004)
Back when space flight was a burgeoning dream and the future seemed relentlessly exciting, Disneyland’s Tomorrowland depicted a fantastic view of those elements. The master of multiple forms of marketing, Walt Disney explored those issues elsewhere as well, and this two-DVD package entitled Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland gives us a glimpse of some Disney materials created to look at the future in a variety of ways.
Most of these appeared on the Disneyland TV program. That series split into subjects related to the theme park’s different lands. For example, “Frontierland” launched the very popular Davy Crockett program. Naturally, “Tomorrowland” focused on futuristic subjects, and this DVD includes a number of looks at the topic.
DVD One includes three Disneyland episodes. Aired March 9, 1955, the very first “Tomorrowland” program was called “Man In Space” (49 minutes, 21 seconds). As the title implies, it looks at prospects for manned space travel. Narrated by director Ward Kimball, we get information from rocket scientists Dr. Willie Ley and Dr. Wernher von Braun plus medical expert Dr. Heinz Haber. We learn about the history and development of the rocket, how rockets function, space medicine and the challenges of this travel on humans, and training and equipment. The program concludes with an animated vision of how space launches and travel will work.
If there’s some reason to watch “Space” other than for historical curiosity, I can’t discern it. To be sure, this show is cool to see from that point of view. It gives us a good glimpse of the era’s science and concepts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it entertaining. Indeed, even the Disney attempts to lighten the dense science with goofy cartoons fail to make “Space” stimulating.
Next we get “Man and the Moon” (52:46) from December 28, 1955. Also led by Ward Kimball, this one examines prospects for travel to the Moon. In addition to Kimball’s comments, we find notes from von Braun. It covers historical viewpoints, myths and popular notions connected to the Moon, effects caused by the Moon and its composition, plans for trips to the Moon and the methods that would have to be used for that purpose. The show concludes with a dramatized depiction of a Moon flight.
Compared to “Space”, this program comes across as a bit more entertaining. That mainly stems from the creative animation created to illustrate all the historical connections to the Moon; those elements offer a fun synopsis. Unfortunately, once we get into the scientific speculation of the Fifties, things go downhill. As with “Space”, these bits are moderately interesting as a glimpse of the era’s concepts, but they don’t offer anything more than that. It doesn’t help that the scientists got so much wrong.
DVD One’s final installment, “Mars and Beyond” (52:40) aired December 4, 1957. It takes on the concept of life and conditions on other planets. Mostly we hear narration, but we also get comments from astronomer Dr. EC Slipher. “Mars” begins with another historical approach, as it views the way societies interpreted stars and other planets through the millennia. These elements include both scientific theories and fictional speculation. From there it looks at the Earth’s creation and development, conditions on other planets, and those with the possibility to maintain life. We progress through prior concepts about Mars and then-current research. The show finishes with ideas of what life on Mars may be like and possibilities for future exploration.
Perhaps because “Mars” presents its material more as broad speculation than science fact, it becomes the most entertaining of DVD One’s three shows. It offers a concise little history of astronomy through the years, and we also find a nice look at various conditions and concepts. As with the prior shows, it collapses somewhat when it looks at the travel components, but these play a less important role here. A lot of animation turns up as well. These elements make “Mars” the most winning program to date.
As we shift to DVD Two, we locate a theatrical release called Eyes in Outer Space (26:39). Originally released in June 1959, the film looks at the use of satellites. Directed by Kimball, the “science-factual” flick starts with a look at the impact of weather and attempts to predict it as well as factors that cause various conditions. Eventually it gets to a discussion of satellites and lets us know their use in weather prediction as well as future possibilities.
”Eyes” clearly ages better than any of the shows on DVD One. That’s because so much of it deals with elements that haven’t changed. After all, weather still forms in the same ways, and methods of prediction haven’t changed radically. More timeless “Eyes” may be, but that doesn’t make it more entertaining. It falls firmly into the “educational” category, and while it does its job well, it’s not a lot of fun to see.
For the second program, we get another TV piece called “Our Friend the Atom” (49:45). Aired January 23, 1957, “Atom” comes hosted by Dr. Heinz Haber. As with its predecessors, history opens the pieces, as the show looks at theories related to atoms through the ages as well as developing uses. It then goes through an explanation of how atoms work and then examines nuclear energy.
The first Tomorrowland program in this set that doesn’t involve space in some way, “Atom” proves surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, it definitely focuses on education, but it does so in a brisk and entertaining way. It explains its material nicely and proves useful.
Lastly, we find a TV episode entitled “EPCOT” (24:27). Created in 1966 just a couple of months prior to Disney’s death, we hear a little about Disneyland before Walt launches into a discussion of the Disney World project. He relates some details for its planned development with an emphasis on the EPCOT division.
Of course, very little of this came to fruition, and that’s part of what makes this show so fascinating; if the plans took place, we’d already know all of the material as reality. Since most of it didn’t occur, “EPCOT” presents a very intriguing look at Disney’s original vision. It’s easily the best program on this DVD.