When does childhood end? Is it 18, according to the law of a state, or is it when being a child has ended and becoming a teenager has taken over? I wonder about this because of some major, jarring changes in my past. I obviously still have fond memories of my past, but certain changes in those details make me wonder if childhood reaches all the way to 18, even when you're getting used to being moody and constantly horny. In March 2000, the last time my family and I spent a full day at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, I was 16, and I sure didn't look 16 in one of the photos my sister keeps in her scrapbook, taken at the entrance to the Ticket and Transportation Center. I look like I'm 9, not 16. 10, maybe, but that would be pushing it. In that one picture, I don't look like I grew into anything.
That day at the Magic Kingdom was the last day I rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in Tomorrowland. During my Grad Nite in 2002, I looked forlornly at the TTA, which was closed because they didn't want rowdy teenagers damaging anything. The same went for the Carousel of Progress, which was being used to put up photo backdrops for graduates (or future graduates; I only know that my class hadn't graduated yet) to have pictures taken and purchase them.
I loved the TTA. I loved the deep, almost robotic voice announcing what the vehicle was approaching ("NOW APPROACHING, SPACE MOUNTAIN," "NOW APPROACHING WALT DISNEY'S CAROUSEL OF PROGRESS."). I loved going past Mickey's Star Traders and as we approached Autopia from on high, hearing, "Hi there, Tomorrowland travelers, this is Mr. Johnson in Skyview Hovercraft One, bringing you the latest Tomorrowland traffic report. As usual, everything is perfect on Tomorrowland's Super Highway. Back to you in TTA Central." Every time we went to Walt Disney World, before that one day, I was always content with spending the day in Tomorrowland. I had Space Mountain, I had the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and I had the Carousel of Progress. I didn't need anything else. My only regret is not having tried out the Timekeeper, which was closed and replaced with Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, installed and opened long after my family and I moved to Southern California.
I followed the Tomorrowland Transit Authority on YouTube. Once in a while I'll get bored with whatever work I'm doing and look it up on YouTube, watching onboard videos from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, sometimes going all the way back to the video from 1991 to see what it was like then. Recently, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority reopened after sufficient time for Space Mountain to undergo refurbishment that would require use of the separate, walled-off track they have for maintenance before you enter Space Mountain. Now when the vehicles go into Space Mountain, there's a lot that's behind walls, such as views of the rollercoaster as well as of the line to board. The TTA underwent a few changes too. Multi-colored lights were installed with red shining on one part of the track, green shining on another, and blue elsewhere. I could live with that. Watching videos post-reopening, that's an improvement.
I know that theme parks will change. Attractions will be taken out, new attractions will be put in to try to attract a bigger crowd. The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was eventually taken out because it was deemed too scary (and, to me, it was, but it contributed much to the ambience of what Tomorrowland should feel like), and replaced with Stitch's Great Escape. Based on business, I understand that.
I believe childhood does indeed end at 18, but runs on fumes until at least a few years later. While you're getting used to a bigger, more complex world, you need anchors to keep you in a state of mind conducive to understanding whatever's going on in your life. For me, one anchor was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, but more specifically, that voice track from the overhead speakers that put you into Tomorrowland. Every video I watched, that narration was always there. And now, it's gone.
It remained after the TTA reopened, but as I've read it, the narration was changed after park closing on October 1. Now it's got one of those hyperactive voices designed to attract the attention of kids who probably already have enough trouble paying attention for a few seconds at a time. It takes you completely out of Tomorrowland by pointing out the many attractions available in Tomorrowland which is completely useless because generally, by the time you've entered Tomorrowland, you know what attractions are there, or if you don't know yet, you probably will because the TTA is not likely to be the first attraction you go on. By the time you go on TTA, you want a break from the crowds, you want to recover after waiting in line for Space Mountain, if that. The idea of the TTA is to ride above Tomorrowland, to take in a different view, to consider different perspectives, not to be told what there is to ride and see and shop at. The old track did also point out what was there, but did it just to point out where you are at that point in the ride, what you're passing over. It never pointed out Stitch's Great Escape. The area that houses Stitch's Great Escape was always called the Tomorrowland Convention Center, and it was convenient at the time of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter too. It added more to the imagination, of the possibility of strange new lifeforms showing off whatever they wanted to show off, such as X-S Tech touting their teleportation technology. That was always the point.
I don't expect to cling to anchors all my life. I understand I'm getting older. But there are some things one might establish for themselves as standard-bearers that they hope would remain standard-bearers. For me, it was the audio track on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority that contributed greatly to the experience. It allowed me to use my imagination to fill in the rest of what Tomorrowland could be. I cherished that the most. But I guess since I am 25, 7 years removed from 18, my childhood has stopped running on fumes and has basically stopped completely.
A lesser shock, though still surprising is learning that the Muvico Paradise 24 movie theater in Davie, Florida is now Cinemark Paradise 24, after the financially-foundering chain sold it and a few other theaters to the Cinemark chain. From video I've seen, it looks like they kept the Egyptian theming, not that they had any choice, and I definitely won't have any inkling of whether there's been any change in the service there beyond the cosmetic sort. I spent a few years going to Muvico Paradise 24 every Saturday to see a few movies and write reviews of them for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Teentime pages (found in the back of their weekend Showtime section every Friday). I have many fond memories of it, but this change doesn't shake me as much as the TTA change.
I think maybe I wouldn't be so stunned at the audio track change if those in Imagineering had written a track in the same style as the one that lasted for years. They only had to stay within Tomorrowland, point out the attractions, but do it in a way that you're not taken out of the experience. Also, they should have employed a better voice actor. This Disney Channel-type voice is the worst for the attraction.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6EnR8fxcs4&feature=related (this is the new TTA spiel)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWx1oonz4Ik (this is TTA with the new lighting which I wish had been installed years ago. The white lighting was nice, but I could have easily gotten used to this.)
The above link also has the old spiel.
As I said to my sister today, "It's not my Tomorrowland anymore." I should have suspected that when they tore down the Galaxy Theater, where I saw many shows from my Disney World-provided stroller. Back then we lived close enough to WDW that we went every weekend and sometimes during the week just for dinner. Some of the changes being made to the Magic Kingdom, such as a far more interactive Fantasyland (including Gaston's Tavern, the Beast's Castle for dining, activity monitors while in line for Dumbo, and the Little Mermaid ride), are beneficial, but I hope that even with the economy the way it is, some loving attention can be given to Tomorrowland. It needs more. It should have more for a generation as yet unknown that I hope will embrace Tomorrowland as I did, and I hope there are a few kids who do now. And I also hope those kids can at least ignore that inane spiel and just enjoy the experience of riding above that section of the park and into Space Mountain.