While watching another Walt Disney Treasures collection, On the Front Lines, I was struck by a strange desire to see some of the Disney classroom films that had been unspooled before me when I was a child. Tomorrowland goes a way toward scratching that particular itch, and satisfying a few itches I didn't know I had.
Disney's first foray into prime time TV was simply called Disneyland, and it was arranged by the four sections of the theme park, rotating each week: Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, and The Magic Kingdom. Sometimes the programming seemed only marginally connected with those themes, but when Tomorrowland's turn came along, it was time for Walt to indulge his futurist yen.
For me, the first disc is the reason to own this set, gathering together all three of Disney's Man in Space episodes: Man in Space, Man and the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. These programs, all broadcast in the pre-Sputnik mid-50s, feature animated history lessons, presentations by luminaries like Willy Ley and Werner von Braun, and Disney visualizations of, respectively, the building of a space station, a trip to the Moon, and a voyage to Mars. Though somewhat fanciful, and sometimes even quaint to modern eyes, these used the foremost scientific thought of the time, and it's possible to see the seeds of modern space travel (for instance, the space shuttle). If you loved Destination Moon and the like, you're going to eat this up with a spoon and ask for seconds.
After the heights of the first disc, number two is a bit of a disappointment. Eyes in Outer Space is a theatrical featurette about satellites - specifically, weather satellites. Like the Man in Space episodes, it also concludes with a bit of science fiction in a weather control complex. Our Friend the Atom bears a bit of infamy, with Disney's whole-hearted endorsement of nuclear power, hailing from a time when its perils were unknown; and finally, the legendary and rarely-seen EPCOT promotional film, made by Disney in 1966 a few short months before his death. Its primary use was for the persuasion of Florida lawmakers and big industry to his cause. Disney certainly makes the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow look very cool - too bad it didn't turn out that way.
Say what you will about Disney, the man truly was a visionary. This shows in subtle ways - for instance, though TV was quite definitely black and white at the time, and would be for the foreseeable future, most of the footage produced for the Disneyland show were still in color. The video quality is beautifully sharp, the elements undamaged, except for Eyes in Outer Space, which shows a good deal of speckling. The sound in these was never meant to be awe-inspiring, but the digital clarity of the format serves the soundtrack well, especially the immaculately modulated voice of Paul Frees, a Disney standard for many, many years.
This Treasures collection seems a bit scant on extras, but a closer examination reveals that they're also deeper than the usual offerings.
There are two episodes of the Leonard Maltin-helmed Walt Disney Treasures series that surfaces occasionally on the Disney Cable Channel. The two selected interviews are almost a half-hour each, one with science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury on his longtime friendship with Disney, and the other with Marty Sklar, king of the Imagineers.
There are three still galleries, Publicity and Periodicals, Behind the Scenes, and Story and Background Art. Don't page through the art too quickly - Leonard Maltin breaks in for pertinent details on some.
Past that, there are the usual Disney Treasure pack-ins - a Certificate of Authenticity, a nearly superfluous booklet, and a postcard-sized poster reproduction, this time of an attraction at the original Tomorrowland, back in 1955 - "Space Station X-1 - See America from OUTER SPACE!"
As a longtime space junkie, this offering from Disney is like opening a long-disused scrapbook, and marvelling at the sweet nostalgia of an innocence you could claim many years ago, but never again. That's more than enough to satisfy me; as ever, your mileage may vary.
Dr. Freex, 7/14/2004