If you like hearing recordings of people saying my name, then you should definitely check out episode 61 of the RetroWDW podcast! Because I’m a big big winner. Every episode, they do a contest called the Audio Rewind, where they play a sound clip from somewhere and sometime in Walt Disney World’s past, and you have to guess where it’s from.
After multiple failed attempts, I finally won one by identifying “Music Makers” by Esquivel, which used to play in the exit queue of Space Mountain. I’m especially happy about this one, since that addition had a big impact on me. It was part of the 1994 refurb of Tomorrowland, which as far as I’m concerned was a Golden Age for Imagineering.
They just nailed the tone. It’d been obvious for decades that Tomorrowland — in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom — was never going to work as even a semi-realistic representation of the future, so the more sustainable direction was a retro-fantasy version. Disney had already been doing this with attractions like Horizons and World of Motion, but the most clever idea of the 94 refurb was that they didn’t limit it to just one version of “retro.” Instead of just going all-in on “steampunk” or “space age,” they combine elements of just about every popular futuristic fantasy from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Art Deco, 1920s modernism, mid-century modern, post war and Cold War, with lots and lots of neon.
Space Mountain’s new exit had an extended FedEx advertisement in the form of a long moving walkway past a series of dioramas about interplanetary deliveries. Including robot dogs on Mars, for some reason. At the time I had just “discovered” Esquivel via a compilation called Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, and hearing it in Disney World made me feel like Disney and I were perfectly attuned to the zeitgeist of retro-cool.
This was around the same time Disneyland’s Space Mountain got a light tunnel on its lift hill and an on-ride soundtrack with Dick Dale doing a space-surf guitar version of Carnival of the Animals. The rest of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland refurb was… less that successful, but that was probably due to cost-cutting and short-sighted exec decisions instead of a lack of imagination. But the first time I rode that version of Space Mountain remains one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a theme park.
Disney Parks will always have an element of dated corniness to them, but that’s not a criticism; it’s an important part of how they work. It part of what makes them feel safe and nostalgic. 1And why attempts to be scary and “edgy” like Alien Encounter, or mockingly self-aware like Tiki Room Under New Management, are always going to be a failure. Seeing and hearing the park playing something that I actually thought was cool felt like it was speaking to me directly for once.