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Tomorrowland DVD Review

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Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland

Disc 1: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
"Man in Space", "Man and the Moon", "Mars and Beyond"

Disc 2: (Click title to view that portion of the review)
"Eyes in Outer Space", "Our Friend the Atom", "EPCOT"

Video and Audio

Bonus Material:
"The Optimistic Futurist", "Marty Sklar, Walt, and EPCOT", Publicity and Publications Gallery, Behind the Scenes Gallery, Story and Background Art Gallery, Easter Egg

Closing Thoughts

Running Time: 319 Minutes (5 hours, 19 minutes)
(253 - programs, 11 - introductions, 55 - extras)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Ratio) / Dolby Digital Mono (English)
Rating: Not Rated / Originally Broadcast between 1955 and 1959
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned / DVD Release Date: May 18, 2004
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $32.99


Tomorrowland has the lowest run of all of the sets in Wave 3 of the Walt Disney Treasures. Inside the double Alpha keepcase is a certificate of authenticity which lists the number of your individual copy out of the 105,000 Tomorrowland sets produced. In addition, there is a collectible card which reproduces Disneyland poster artwork for Space Station X-1 in the 1950s. Lastly, there is an 8-page booklet with standard information on Walt, a specific introduction to these episodes by Leonard Maltin, a listing of the contents, and sequence art from the Man in Space episode. The keepcase is housed in a high-quality silver tin with a full-colored center graphic.

Leonard Maltin introduces (1:18) Walt Disney's "science-factual" programs as a forerunner to the educational and instructional shows that populate public and cable television these days. Maltin explains that Disney put a lot into these programs on space travel, intending them for a broad audience in the 1950s.

DISC 1

Disney animator Ward Kimball, the producer, and director of these early programs A cartoon simulates weightlessness in outer space The spaceman completes his training

Man in Space (March 9, 1955) (51:15)

In a 2-minute introduction to this piece, Leonard Maltin briefly discusses Disney animator Ward Kimball's impact on the series, for which he was director and producer. He also explains the reception to this episode. He reveals it was later edited into a featurette, accompanying Davy Crockett and the River Pirates and meriting an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Short. As the title implies, this episode looks into the potential of people traveling to space.

This new series is launched with a brief, and often light-hearted history of experiments with rockets. The possibilites of satellites are considered. And then a practical look at what a spaceman shall have to physically and psychologically face: momentum, weightlessness, radiation, and perhaps space sickness. These animated sequences on the spaceman are most inspired, providing a factually accurate and visually amusing fashion. The episode concludes with a simulation of a launch into space.

Walt introduces "Man and the Moon" Moon superstitions are explored... ...and so are songs about the moon!

Man and the Moon (December 28, 1955) (54:43)

The first twenty minutes of this episode are highly enjoyable. Man's fascination with the moon is explored, in a variety of lighthearted ways. With basic, appealing animation, the moon is considered in terms of cultural beliefs,
the moon's role in Shakespeare and children's rhymes, lunar superstitions, and scientific research. From Kepler to Cyrano de Bergerac, from Jules Verne to green cheese, a delightfully wide range of perspectives are covered with a fast pace and a great sense of humor. An array of animation techniques are employed, from simple line animation to drawings meant to look like children's art.

After this highly inspired first third, Ward Kimball comes on with some information on the moon, supplemented by graphics. Kimball then introduces Dr. Wernher von Braun, who discusses plans for a trip around the moon. Though effective efforts are made to make this not feel like a lecture, it still comes off much dryer and information-based than the spirited opening. Braun's hypothetical runthrough of a voyage to the moon becomes a narration of some detailed and interesting artwork. Eventually, a live action simulation from inside and outside a rocket dramatizes what such an expedition might be like. The episode ends with a preview of next week's episode "When Knighthood was in Flower" (the 1953 film released theatrically as The Sword and the Rose) and the feature film The Littlest Outlaw.

Walt and Garco the Robot introduce "Mars and Beyond" Cartoons speculate what Martians may be like. Enclosed living conditions, which could hypothetically exist on Mars.

Mars and Beyond (December 4, 1957) (54:25)

Garco the Robot introduces Walt, who introduces this exciting episode of "Tomorrowland" which covers life on other planets.
DMC_300x250
We begin with a history of man, who seeks to understand the world they inhabit and begin to notice patterns in the stars. Mankind begins to develop certain beliefs regarding the celestial bodies. Theories from scientists and philosophists are covered. Ptolemy's inaccurate, but accepted theories, and then Copernicus.

Then life on other planets is considered. Some wonderfully imaginative imagination depicts the theorized inhabitants of other planets. Soon, Mars becomes the focus of this episode. Ideas from H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs are brought to life with more colorful animation. Pulp science fiction comics of the time are parodied in the same straightforward tone as everything else. As the segment plays out, you can see freedom in the production, Ward Kimball's comic tone, and even a cameo from Donald Duck.

After this, the program adopts a more serious tone as it profiles each of the planets in the solar system, from the perspective of what would happen to a man on them. Life in Mars could almost be normal, the program declares. Something that is of increasing importance for the future, we're told. Dr. E.C. Slipher, a foremost Mars authority, discusses the red planet and the possibility that life is there. More animation speculates what the conditions in Mars might be like. This section is filled with striking, inventive and decidedly atypical Disney animation. The program wraps up with what a trip to Mars would entail for a space crew and its vessels. Over the end credits, Old Yeller is advertised.

Martians are halted! Dr. E.C. Slipher talks about Mars. "Eyes in Outer Space" covers the weather and satellites.

DISC 2

The second disc opens with more Maltin who compliments Disney and his staff for being able to make complex scientific ideas comprehendable for the average American, without talking down.

Eyes in Outer Space (June 1959) (26:38)

Released initially as a featurette to theaters, this show came to the "Disneyland" show three years later. The focus is on the weather. There is a portion devoted to water, and how it changes forms. Then, satellites and weather prediction are covered. The subject matter may not be the most exciting, which makes the abstract animation and unusual jazz music the highlights.

An amusing story of a fisherman and a genie opens "Our Friend the Atom" Dr. Heinz Haber discusses the nature of atoms. Nuclear fission is represented by mousetraps and pingpong balls!

"Our Friend the Atom" (January 23, 1957) (51:54)

In his interesting introduction to the piece, Leonard Maltin recalls how he and his friends would breathe sighs of relief at the "Walt Disney Presents" opening titles during educational films in school. The special begins discussing Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with fullscreen footage of the 1954 Disney film.
Walt then comes on and tells how the subject of this is of great importance, so great that he reports on plans for an atomic exhibit at Disneyland.

Walt turns over to Dr. Heinz Haber, who opens with an animated story of a fisherman and a genie. The rest of the special relies on this analogy that atomic energy is like a genie that the fisherman ("society") finally has power over. Haber proceeds to discuss how tools like a Geiger counter and a microscope allow us to explore things that are unnoticeable to the human eye.

Certain well-known theories, formulas and experiments are brought to life, such as E=mc² and a light beam passing through a gold sheet. To illustrate chain reactions in nuclear fission, a table filled with mousetraps represents the atoms and pingpong balls stand in for the new neutrons created from the split.

Though the material may not greatly differ from a high school science class, Maltin's observation that these are the same people who made Snow White and Bambi is astute. Atomic science is a lot more fun the Disney way.

A graphic representation of the atom Walt talks about "EPCOT" Walt points out the planned location for Disney World

"EPCOT" (25:30)

In this promotional film from October 1966, Walt Disney explains his plans for Disney World in Florida. In his introduction to this feature, Maltin states that this is the first time it has been seen in its entirety by the general public. Disney speaks with excitement about EPCOT as "an experimental prototype community that will always be in a state of becoming." The film details transportaion plans for EPCOT, calling for three levels of transporation, with a high-speed monorail and a WEDWAY People Mover at the highest level. Sadly, Walt Disney died just two months after this was filmed.

Animated fun in "Mars and Beyond" The opening "Tomorrowland" sequence Is this what Mars might be like?

VIDEO & AUDIO

There is a decent amount of stock footage, taken from rocket launches and older films. This never looks too polished, but it ranges from rough to quite rough. By contrast, the portions recorded of Ward Kimball and Walt Disney look clean and sharp, as do the animated portions which supplement live-action footage. There is some grain that simply underlines that there wasn't quite a feature film budget for this series. Obviously, the programs don't even approach a clarity and sharpness that something recorded today would. All things considered, video quality is about what you can expect, knowing the work that goes into the Walt Disney Treasures sets.

As the disclaimer at the beginning of each episode informs, though these episodes of Tomorrowland originally aired in black & white, they were filmed in color, and that is how they are presented on DVD. The episodes are in their standard television 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Color elements could not be located for small portions of each program; these portions (typically just the opening and closing scenes) are presented only in black & white.

Though the Dolby Mono track is entirely appropriate and mostly okay, I noticed a few instances where the volume would fluctuate. This is not a major problem, but it's about the worst I could find with the audio presentation. While it's clearly a dated 1950s soundtrack, it serves the material well with a satisfactory mix of dialogue, music, and effects.

Ray Bradbury in "The Optimistic Futurist" Leonard Maltin, host of the Treasures, conducts two interviews. Marty Sklar in "Marty Sklar, Walt, and EPCOT"

BONUS FEATURES

Disc 2 contains all the bonus features, which include two lengthy interviews, some galleries, and an Easter Egg.

In "The Optimistic Futurist" (24:36), author Ray Bradbury speaks about Walt Disney, the man and his creations. Bradbury discusses Disney's optimism, his vision, and his achievements in television and parks.
Bradbury recalls the first time he met Walt Disney, a story which will be familiar to those who have seen Walt: The Man Behind the Myth. Bradbury is a most engaging speaker, and this interview of his thoughts and memories is one of the highlights of the set.

In "Marty Sklar, Walt, and EPCOT" (26:30), Leonard Maltin interviews Marty Sklar, a longtime Disney employee and Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering. Sklar discusses Walt as a visionary, plus "Tomorrowland" the program and the section at Disneyland. The focus is more on the latter, as Sklar's expertise seems to be more about the park.

The Publicity and Publications gallery contains ad materials for Man in Space's theatrical release as a featurette, plus Disney's high-class companion books to the series. There are 15 stills, from which Maltin comments on 6 of them.

The Behind the Scenes Gallery offers eight...teen photographs of the creative talent behind the programs, with Maltin providing audio captions on half of the stills.

A book cover from the Publicity and Publications Gallery Story and Background Art Gallery The Sherman Brothers and Walt sing "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow"

Story and Background Art Gallery features about two dozen stills on the three programs from Disc 1: Man in Space (27 stills), Mars and Beyond (52 stills), Man and the Moon (20 stills). It offers a collection of TV storyboards and conceptual art. On select images, Maltin provides information on Disney's series, usually not specific to the image.

Lastly, from the Bonus Features menu, you'll find an Easter egg.

Easter Egg: Sherman Brothers perform "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" (4:05)
Richard and Robert Sherman, Disney's go-to songwriting team, perform the song with Walt Disney himself. Walt then speaks directly to the camera, addressing the recipients of this song, the General Electric Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. It doesn't really pertain to this set, although it is relevant to the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland, as the theme of the Carousel of Progess attraction. Of course, any footage of Walt Disney himself has an interest value, even something like this.

The menus on both discs are colorful 4x3 screens, accompanied by selections from a unique space-age score.

Cyrano de Bergerac goes for a ride in "Man and the Moon" Walt with the Nautilus in "Our Friend the Atom" A simulated space trip from "Man and the Moon"

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There's an unexpected but definite appeal to these Tomorrowland programs. Though scientific and technological breakthroughs over the past few decades have rendered this material somewhat dated, that doesn't detract from the value of these shows. If anything, a modern understanding enhances one's appreciation of this older thinking. The entertainment value to the animated and live action sequences of "Tomorrowland" remains strong on several levels, even as the space program has in recent years mostly fallen off the radar in the United States.

Though these programs are informative, they are not dry. They maintain an approachable casual tone that lends to their entertainment value. While Walt Disney should get his due for approving this series, a great deal of credit goes to Ward Kimball, the longtime Disney animator who produced and directed these early programs.

Maltin states elsewhere that Disney selected Kimball to host the program in part to his lack of knowledge on the subject matter. Kimball could structure these programs and teach as he was learning about space and the future of travel. The interesting blend of lighthearted speculation and hard scientific fact shows that this tactic worked.

As with the other Walt Disney Treasures sets, Tomorrowland displays its vintage content with the utmost care. The context that Leonard Maltin provides, coupled with some genuinely enjoyable bonus features, contributes to making this a special package. For most Disney collectors, the question may not be whether to buy, but how to buy a copy of this set, the most limited Treasure printed.

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Review posted May 17, 2004.