The Carousel of Progress and the concepts of today and tomorrow

The Carousel of Progress premiered in 1964 at the New York World’s Fair, moved to Disneyland in California in 1967, and then moved to Walt Disney World in Florida in 1975, where it’s been ever since. It’s a mild attraction, which mostly consists of sitting in a rotating theater where the audience moves instead of the stage. You see four scenes, and each represents a different decade in America, where the same audio-animatronic family (which ages about ten years over a supposed span of a century) explains how their lives have changed thanks to the progression of technology. It’s definitely not enjoyable for everyone. I remember the last time I went on it, the cast member giving the safety spiel closed by telling us to enjoy our twenty minute nap.

Most early Disney attractions had or have theme songs, many of them written by one of two teams: Buddy Baker and X Atencio, and Robert and Richard Sherman. The songs served as a way to easily identify the attraction with an audio cue, are generally simple enough to remember, and usually repeat throughout the attraction (think “It’s a Small World”). The Carousel of Progress’s themes were written by the Sherman Brothers, and they both play or would play at the beginning and end of each decade’s scene, as a way to usher the audience from one portion of the show to the next.

The first song they produced was called, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” It was used until the move to Florida in 1975, and then brought back in 1993. It’s still being used today.

The song was considered “Walt’s song” by the Sherman Brothers, and there’s probably a lot of truth to that statement. Walt Disney was really into the idea of technology and progress, and how they could be utilized to make our lives better. He was about as optimistic as they come (or, at least, his public persona was).

So, why did the song change? Well, like many attractions at Disney, the Carousel of Progress had a sponsor, and the sponsors have generally had a good say in how the attraction is presented. The Carousel’s sponsor at the time was GE, who didn’t like a song about “tomorrow,” because it didn’t inspire customers to buy their products “today.” So a new song was written: “The Best Time of Your Life,” also by the Sherman Brothers.

In 1993, GE ended its sponsorship, and Disney decided to re-do the ride and reinstate “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” although “The Best Time of Your Life” can still be heard in background music that’s played throughout the park.

Now, discussion boards aren’t exactly lighting up with debate about which song is better, but it’s something I think about a fair amount. The first time I went on the Carousel was with my mother in 2010. She was singing “The Best Time of Your Life,” which is the theme she grew up hearing, and was disappointed that it had been changed. When I started to do research on the ride, I immediately decided, never having heard “Best Time of Your Life” all the way through, that I preferred “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” for several reasons:

  • It was the original
  • It was preferred by the Sherman Brothers
  • It was one of Walt’s favorite songs
  • “Best Time of Your Life” seemed to be too much of a commercial, since its specific purpose was to get people to buy GE appliances
  • Disney parks are all about the concept of “tomorrow,” and I love when a theme is consistent. There’s a reason it’s not called “Todayland.”

I definitely think we need to be concerned about the world we’re leaving behind for future generations, but I think there’s also value in being optimistic about the future and believing that we can create things that make our lives better. So for a long time, this was my favorite of the two.

Then I started listening to “The Best Time of Your Life,” and I finally memorized the lyrics. Being stubborn, I still told myself it was inferior, but I started to sing it more and more and I realized it has a lot of merits.

There’s a line in the second song that says “tomorrow is still but a dream.” That bit of lyrics rubbed me the wrong way; it seemed to be implying that the message of the original was useless. After all, if tomorrow is just a dream, then we’re wasting our time thinking about it when we could be focusing on the here and now. But the more I listened to it, the more I wondered, is that such a bad thing? By focusing on the future, we can sometimes forget that what we do now is important. If we’re so obsessed with the idea that there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow, are we saying that because we’re so tired of today that we can’t see the good things that are here?

One of the last lines of the song goes, “Now is the best time/be it a time of joy or strife.” I like that. I like that the song is encouraging us to realize that we can take advantage of any time we’re living in, whether it’s good or bad.

BUT, I still also love the idea of being optimistic about the future. In a world where there’s so much bleak news about what tomorrow might bring, I think optimism is ultimately what’s going to help us actually make that future great.

So, what do you think? Not necessarily which song is better (unless you happen to be as nerdy as me), but where do you think we should turn? Is it smart or silly to think about the future being great? Does it help us to think of now as the best time, or does it hinder us?

Are you living in the future, or are you living in the now?

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jenny
    Oct 24, 2013 @ 22:01:03

    I enjoyed this, Rachel. It is an interesting concept and actually makes me think of my religion. As a Christian, I am to live in the understanding that life today is not all we have. My future in Christ is a blessing and a promise, meant to give me strength in the moment, unfailing hope, a release from the cares of this world. It also gives me freedom to live fully in the here and now, acting out of confidence and gratefulness, with joy In the daily living. Perhaps the hopes of the future, then, give shape and substance to the present.


  2. Shelby
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 17:23:29

    What’s funny is that I have this conversation all the time about visiting Disney–in specific, spending your entire visit behind the lens of a camera, video camera, iPad (I’m amazed by the number of people who take their iPads to the parks and use them as cameras–I mean, take a camera, yanno?), phone, etc. Digital photography has made it kind of ridiculous when taking pictures because hey, take all you want! The problem is, people MISS their Disney vacations because rather than being present and living in the moment, they are busy documenting it to look at later (tomorrow!). This is one of the reasons I cut back my own Disney blog so drastically, especially once we got a new small family member. Concentrating on taking pictures and documenting the experience was drawing me away from it–I wasn’t present for my family, friends, and kids. I wasn’t really enjoying the moment because I was busy doing something else. People forget, in this day and age, that there’s a difference between making memories and taking photographs. Yes, it’s awesome to have pictures to look back on, but when your memories consist of taking pictures, especially when one person is almost always behind the camera, which is frequently the case, you’ve missed a big part of the point of Disney.


    • rachellieberman
      Oct 30, 2013 @ 17:34:38

      Shelby, I completely get what you mean. I want to blog about Disney more, take more pictures for here and Facebook, but I’ve noticed that every time I do, I miss something. I tried to take a video of a ride, and I stopped halfway through because I realized, hey, my camera isn’t that great, and I’m too busy filming to pay attention to something I just stood in line 40 minutes to see! I’m always jealous of those families that have so many pictures of their vacations that they can create entire scrapbooks just to commemorate one week, because I know my vacations create enough memories for a scrapbook, but then when I try to do that myself I miss out on a lot of moments!

      I think with Disney vacations in general, a lot of people who come away from it saying they didn’t understand what was supposed to be so great had a picture in their mind of what a vacation is supposed to be, and a trip to Disney is just anything but the typical vacation. Yes, it’s extremely customizable, but if you want it to stand out from other theme parks you’ve been to, you really have to be willing to look around you and pay attention. Don’t discount Splash Mountain as “just a flume ride,” or you’ll miss the cool story and awesome animatronics. Don’t discount the Haunted Mansion as a dull version of a county fair haunted house because you’ll miss all the clever sight gags and awesome illusions. And that’s just scratching the surface!


  3. L. Marie
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 16:50:42

    Being optimistic about the future is wonderful. But I also live in the now, because each day is a gift.


  4. ariel woodruff
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 22:02:15

    This is the quickest note ever, as I’m about to hit the gym, but I just had to say two things:

    1. Thank you so much for doing a Disney post. This reminds me of how it was we first met and how we pretty much knew we were going to be best friends for life. Do you ever listen to the Mousetalgia podcast? I listen to it every morning as I get ready for work. Nothing like starting a day off with pixie dust.

    2. I love the idea of living in and enjoying the now, because it’s something I realize I fail at frequently. I’m always thinking of when I’ll finish the manuscript, when I’ll be at point x in my career, when I’ll have a new show prospect puppy, when I’ll be in Disneyland–and it can cause me to freak out and feel as if I’m behind or failing at where I am, instead of seeing it as not only a good point to be, and a point that is further along than where I was yesterday, but also as part of my own progress. That said, when I hear the words “tomorrow is just a dream,” I like to flip it and think of it the way I think Walt himself might have — that that’s an incredibly exciting thing to be, and that our dreams are the things we are turning into reality today.


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