Memorial Day Weekend in May of 1998, I was 18 years old, a senior in high school, participating in Magic Music Days at Disneyland. While I was playing percussion with a high school band to accompany a Disney movie (I believe it was Pocahontas), Doug Barnes, who had deserted band as an elective due to major burnout, decided to eschew Magic Music Days (no lingering bitterness there) and go ride Rocket Rods. I, being a pragmatic 18 year old, wanted no part of waiting 3+ hours for ANYTHING, and told Doug to go for it and let me how it was. By the time I got out of Music Days, Doug was STILL in line for the ride, and I had to wait a further 30 minutes for him to get done. He was SO…THRILLED…To be out of line when the ride was over, and he was so overwhelmed by the experience that I can’t even recall what his reaction was to the ride. (That last sentence was largely sarcasm, although he was happy to be done with the waiting in line, after the anticipation of finally getting to go to The New Tomorrowland.) I finally rode Rocket Rods in 1999, and I found it to be very…meh.
Hindsight is a funny thing. If 18 year old me knew what 35 year old me knows, maybe 18-34 year old me would’ve done some things different; then again, perhaps not. You never know which decision is the pivot point in changing your lifeline.
As I was researching the Googlesphere for information about the opening of 1998’s version of Tomorrowland, I happened across a fun little find on this very website. So, if you will indulge me for a moment, this is the link to that Micechat discussion: Who was the idiot responsible for the 1998 New Tomorrowland?
The opening question was “Who was the idiot responsible for the 1998 Tomorrowland? Just wondering if he/she still works for Disney, or they mercifully fired that person.”
My response to that question is, Tony Baxter (and others), and no, he “retired” from Disney Imagineering. As I was listening to The Season Pass Podcast’s 4th installment of the Tony Baxter interviews (Please, Mr. Barnes, the Disneyland that never was episode needs to be in my ear holes, as soon as humanly possible), my ears perked to attention (Not that I wasn’t paying attention during the discussion about Disneyland Paris, I was! I promise!!) at the point where Tony Baxter forged head on into the discussion about the austere management and budgeting when Tomorrowland was being revamped; and, in hindsight, a single large attraction with an 80 million dollar price tag would’ve been the better option.
Now that 17 years have passed since the opening of The New Tomorrowland, and 4 years since Tony’s job security was called into question on this forum board, have we forgiven the sins of the Tomorrowland ’98 revamping? Does a new Star Tours forgive some ills? Whatever your opinion, and I certainly have mine—but I’m fairly charitable—is about Tomorrowland in its current state, maybe it’s time to reopen the discussion about fan expectation versus Disney delivery, especially in light of Universal’s moves of late in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
And that bring us to this deep dive into the mind of Tony Baxter and what the real story is behind Tomorrowland ’98: