Disney enthusiasts are a sentimental lot. Few developments incite the passionate masses quite like alterations within their beloved parks. The most recent Pirates of the Caribbean renovations met with the standard harsh reviews among many Disneyland contemporaries. This is nothing new. From the relocation of the very first trashcan, Disney refurbishment invites almost as much scrutiny as the endless parade of price increases. One of the more historically confounding developments was the removal of the Disneyland PeopleMover. Its continued absence is widely lamented and misunderstood. Where has it gone? Why? And will it ever return?
In this installment of “Disneyland Past and Present“, we examine the tragic loss of of the Disneyland PeopleMover. For decades, the plodding attraction catered to Tomorrowland guests intent on reflection and relaxation. It was a special favorite among those not keen on waiting in some prohibitive line. The constant-loading feature, and the fact it was rather tame (exception, see Superspeed Tunnel), helped keep crowds down. The original attraction, sponsored by Goodyear, opened July 2, 1967. Once the D-ticket novelty wore off, guests virtually walked on to the PeopleMover on all but the most festive days.
For those with a proper appreciation for Disney’s mid-twentieth-century vision of the future, the PeopleMover was a must-do. Clunky construction, stirring primary colors, classic narration; the leisurely tour of Tomorrowland was as much a part of an early visit to Disneyland as Mickey Ears and ice cream sandwiches.
Reportedly, the ride could handle over 40-thousand guests a day. It rarely did. Disneyland, and Tomorrowland, specifically, is about progress. To call the PeopleMover unpopular is perhaps a bit inaccurate. It was beloved with a passion to rival Pirates of the Caribbean among those with the proper sentiment. Unfortunately for it, this contingent just wasn’t attraction-sustainingly large. On August 21, 1995, the PeopleMover came to a permanent halt. Those of us who were not alive during the Kennedy assassination remember exactly where we were when news came down regarding the PeopleMover.
Enter the Rocket Rods. Unlike the poorly conceived Tomorrowland chromatic color-change that accompanied it, the Rocket Rods was actually well conceived. It was just poorly delivered. Though the Imagineers should have just left it alone, the idea of transforming the PeopleMover into a thrill ride had merit. The track and queue were already in place, all that was required to revitalize the attraction were new vehicles and a few tweaks to the programming. Right? Well, no, not at all.
Rocket Rods pretty much never functioned properly. Oh, there were times, multiple days in succession, even, where it operated from rope drop to park closing without incident. Guests fortunate enough to be present on these occasions were treated to a whirlwind tour of Tomorrowland. The one rider up front in each car probably even enjoyed it enough to believe Rocket Rods was an improvement. This impression quickly faded, when, on a future visit, one is relegated to any of the far less exciting seat assignments. Most often, though, the attraction simply wasn’t running at all.
Rocket Rods, itself, closed for good in the summer of 2000. It was slated to reopen after renovations, though never did. It was replaced by nothing. Strangely, the PeopleMover still has not resurfaced.
Longtime Disneyland guests envy the younger generation’s ability to ignore the derelict track left in the PeopleMover’s wake. Visitors under a certain age are hardly compelled to even speculate regarding the forlorn white spires blatantly circumnavigating the entire Tomorrowland. They make their merry way between Star Tours, Space Mountain, and the latest misapplication of the former Carousel of Progress building without a reflexive thought. To the rest of us the track stands as a monument to a missing element of our past. Still, the fact that it has not been completely removed in all this time may give one hope for the future. As of yet, there are no obvious plans for the PeopleMover’s reinstatement. Alas.