Presidential Essay #45.1: The Imagineer Considers Tomorrow

Colin Rafferty

They put us in the past, and they put us in the dark. Six months closed to refit everything and fit him in, to move his predecessor back with the others and archive the long speech; six months to decide how to sculpt him, model him, six months to study his face’s twitches and his body’s movements, the hands describing an arc, the shoulders shrugging, like we would imitate him. Six months to build him, or something very much like him, and then install him to speak to the crowds like we did the others, to test out all the bugs. To make this him perfectly him.

This whole place is built up, above the water table of Florida, so that what you think is ground level is the second floor. You walk here above a network of hallways and corridors, dressing rooms and employee lockers, the secret passageways to other lands. Walt never wanted the spell to break because a guest saw a pirate in Frontierland or a cowboy in Tomorrowland. He never wanted to see an entertainer out of place. He wanted this place to be perfect, worry-free. At another park, he counted how many steps visitors walked before dropping their garbage on the ground, and then he installed trashcans here so that you were never that far from one. We clean before anything needs cleaning. That was the secret.

I imagine, because that is my job: we could build him better, more human than he is. We could build him like we built the way you arrived, down Main Street, USA, a small town street, that once-and-future Great America that only ever existed in Walt’s head. We could make him better, build in a sense of justice, of fairness, of humility. We have all these tools to make tomorrow.

But Tomorrowland is in the past, too. The present always catches you, so our tomorrow is the tomorrow we dreamed of decades ago, People Movers and Astro Orbiters, a Carousel of Progress that only goes in circles.

So we’ll imagine him and build him. We’ll attach his hands to the wrists, pull the face down over the machinery that drives him. We’ll weave his hair into his scalp, comb it just so. We’ll paint the skin the right shade, a Pantone number to be determined. We’ll match the mouth’s movements to the voice he’ll record (assuming he’ll record; what would he say? My job is to imagine, and I cannot). We’ll test this in the labs and in the Hall, watching him repeat his motions and his words over and over, testing, testing, testing.

When you visit, look at our closed doors, on your way to the Haunted Mansion, on your way to the Mad Tea Party, on your way to Tomorrowland. Hold a moment for us inside, trying to bring this dark ride into the present. Oh, hold just one moment more.

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