This new column will discuss attractions that were located in Tomorrowland in Disneyland park in California and Magic Kingdom park in Florida. It will also cover attractions that are or were located in the Future World section of Epcot park in Florida. It is written with the belief that the futuristic and optimistic ideals established for Tomorrowland and the original EPCOT Center are as relevant today as they were in past and are needed now more than ever.
Did you ever get to experience the Circle-Vision 360° theater in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in California or the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida? The circular, standing-room only theater had nine screens and nine film projectors. The patented process provided a one-of-a-kind film going experience and was a staple for years at most Magic Kingdom-style parks (you can still experience Circle-Vision 360° at the China and Canada pavilions at Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida).
In Disneyland, the attraction was originally called "Circarama." It was one of Disneyland's original attractions when the park first opened its gates in 1955. The original Circarama theater had 11 screens and projectors. The first Circarama film shown in the park was "A Tour of the West." An 11-camera version of "America the Beautiful" debuted in 1960. With the opening of the newly remodeled Tomorrowland in 1967, the format changed from 11 cameras/projectors/screens to nine cameras/projectors/screens and the attraction was renamed "Circle-Vision 360°." A new nine-camera version of "America the Beautiful" made its debut in 1967 and played in theater for many years (it's the one I first remember seeing at the park). (Another historical note of interest is that also in 1967, Walt Disney Productions produced a nine-camera Circle-Vision film called "Canada '67" that played at the Expo 67 world's fair held that year in Montreal, Canada--a precursor to the Circle-Vision film that opened in the Canada Pavilion in EPCOT Center in 1982.)
The attraction was renamed in the 1980s to "World Premiere Circle-Vision." Other films that have played in the theater included a remake of "America the Beautiful" called "American Journeys" (I remember that one, too), along with the "Wonders of China" film which still plays at Epcot's China pavilion today. The theater closed in 1997 to make way for the queue for the ill-fated Rocket Rods attraction, part of the 1998 Tomorrowland remodel. The space is now occupied by the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters laser gun omnimover attraction.
At the Magic Kingdom, Circle-Vision 360° was also an opening day attraction in 1971 with the nine-camera version of "America the Beautiful" as its first film. "Magic Carpet 'Round the World" and "American Journeys" also played in the theater. When Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland received its current science fiction update in 1994, an English-language version of the Euro Disneyland/Disneyland Paris "Timekeeper" attraction showed up for a few years before being replaced with the current Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor attraction now occupying the theater space.
Why It Was Great
Circle-Vision was a wonderful part of the Tomorrowland experience for many reasons. First, cinema-in-the-round just felt futuristic in and of itself. I was in awe every time I walked into the dark, air-conditioned theater and saw the nine screens floating above me. It was as if the future was so big, it needed nine movie screens instead of just one. Then, when the movie started, it made you feel like you were right in the middle of all of the action. It was almost as if it were a precursor to today's virtual reality, yet even more so given the large screen size. The beautifully created and edited films transported you to a different place in an almost miraculous way. You really felt like you were driving in a car down Lombard Street in San Francisco. It seemed like you really were on a horse-drawn carriage driving through New England in the fall. And you felt optimistic about life and about the future after the experience was over. It truly was another classic Disneyland experience where parents and children could have fun together. I know that I have lots of happy memories watching Circle-Vision 360° with my mom and dad.
If I Were In Charge
Well, if it were up to me, I would bring the attraction back of course. For the theater at Disneyland, I'd evict/relocate Buzz Lightyear (as fun as his attraction is) and re-build the theater in its original location. In the Magic Kingdom, I'd also relocate the Monsters Inc. friends to Disney's Hollywood Studios (as clever and fun as that attraction is, too) and restore the theater to its rightful place.
The newly restored Circle-Vision theaters would have state-of-the-art digital projection and sound and would be flexible to allow for different films to play throughout the day. As far as films go, there is so much potential there. Here are some ones I've love to see:
Futuristic films. How fun would it be to have updated, 360° versions of Ward Kimball's brilliant animated shorts "Magic Highways U.S.A." or "Mars and Beyond" that were originally made for the "Disneyland" TV show? Or what about digital, 360° re-creations of the selectable finale films of EPCOT Center's Horizons attraction with visits to Brava Centauri, Mesa Verde, and Sea Castle?
Travel films. The travel themes from the original films could continue, including an updated version of "America the Beautiful"/"American Journeys." Digital versions of the China and Canada films from Epcot could also make appearances. Many other destinations from around the U.S.A. and the world could be added as well; the possibilities are limitless.
Animated films. You know what a big animation fan I am. Wouldn't it be fun to see specially crafted 360° animated films created by Walt Disney Animation Studios or Pixar Animation Studios? Or what about a 360° remake/update of "Mickey's Philharmagic"? (Not that I want to add more cartoons to Tomorrowland, but I still think it would be fun to watch an expertly animated film in 360°.)
Classic films. Of course, the previously made films would be digitally restored and shown on a regular basis in the theater, too.
What are your favorite memories about Circle-Vision 360° and your thoughts about a potential future for the format? Let us know.
Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at the upper level (3rd level) of Magic Kingdom's Circle-Vision 360° theater. These photos were taken sometime during The Timekeeper's final operating months in late 2005 or early 2006 at a Cast Member merchandise event.
Tomorrowland '67 [Part 1]
"As Long as There Is Imagination Left in the World": Putting the Phrase to Better Use
THEN AND NOW: Disneyland [Part 1]
THEN AND NOW: Epcot World Showcase [Part 2]
Seven Dwarfs, Hold Up!