4 Imagineering Innovations that Changed Disney Parks Forever

4 Imagineering Innovations that Changed Disney Parks Forever

On this day, 60 years ago, four iconic Disney attractions debuted at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Not only did this event showcase visions of the future, foster unity, and celebrate diversity, it also served as the jumping off point for the cutting-edge technology we still see in Disney parks today. 

Walt Disney and his Imagineers used this opportunity to tell new stories through the blending of art and science, delivering a lineup of attractions that captured the essence of the fair and set a new standard for immersive experiences — Audio-Animatronics technology being the unifying theme between the four. As true pioneers of the themed entertainment industry, Imagineers have constantly been pushing the boundaries and making the impossible possible. 

Before arriving at the World’s Fair, Walt previewed these attractions and their technology on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” On the show he explained that “…Disneyland gave us a new art and a new type of artist – one that works with a slide rule and blow torch instead of pencil and brush. Just as we had to learn to make our animated cartoons talk, we had to find a way to make attraction figures talk, too. We created a new field of animation.” This animation is what we now know as Audio-Animatronics figures and continues to be developed by our Imagineers even today! If you’ve ever wanted to learn how birds sing, elephants fly and other great moments are brought to life through this technology, the first video in the brand-new series “We Call It Imagineering” takes you behind the scenes. Now let’s learn a little bit about the four attractions that changed Disney parks forever!

The Carousel of Progress transported guests through time with stunning animatronic displays, showcasing the evolution of human progress. Debuted as part of General Electric’s pavilion, it epitomized Walt Disney’s values and vision, blending nostalgia for the past with optimism about the future. Did you know this is the oldest attraction at Walt Disney World to have been worked on by Walt? Initially at Disneyland, it later moved to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1975, retaining its original scenes set in the 1890s, 1920s, and 1940s. While updated with virtual reality and voice-controlled appliances, the attraction’s iconic tune, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” by the Sherman brothers, continues to charm audiences and Disney fans alike.

Dubbed Disney’s “Highway in the Sky” by Walt Disney himself, Ford’s Magic Skyway took guests on a journey through the evolution of transportation. Housed within Ford Motor’s Wonder Rotunda, guests boarded Ford vehicles to travel back in time, experiencing everything from dinosaurs to the dawn of time. The innovative Omnimover system made this massive journey possible, and evolutions of this technology can be found in classic Disney attractions around the world, such as the Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

The Ford pavilion also featured the International Gardens display, showcasing models of 12 miniature villages. This display directly influenced the conceptualization and design of EPCOT’s World Showcase, which opened seventeen years later.

Created as a “salute to the children of the world” for UNICEF and installed in the Pepsi-Cola pavilion, ‘it’s a small world’ became a Disney landmark, dazzling crowds with Mary Blair’s extraordinary colors and designs, Alice Davis’s couture costuming, and Marc Davis’s figure design and articulated animation. 

Following the Fair, the original attraction, including the water trough, was transported to Disneyland, where it remains a beloved experience. Guests enjoy five versions of the attraction, all inspired by Mary Blair’s artwork, across our global parks: Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland.

For the State of Illinois’ pavilion, Imagineers showcased awe-inspiring Audio-Animatronics technology— a groundbreaking achievement in its time in President Abraham Lincoln. He was the world’s first fully animated human figure, whose lifelike representation set a new standard for immersive storytelling. Following its success at the Fair, Imagineers developed a Disneyland version, debuting before the Fair’s end on July 18, 1965.

Six decades later, the influence of these groundbreaking experiences can still be felt in every corner of Disney parks and experiences worldwide. The legacy of our work on the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair endures in classics like Pirates of the Caribbean and modern-day favorites like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, where cutting-edge technology and immersive storytelling redefine the theme park experience.

As we pay homage to the past, Imagineers are eagerly looking to the future, knowing that the magic of tomorrow is shaped by the same pioneering spirit that brought these iconic attractions to life all those years ago.

Want to hear more about what’s being dreamed up, designed, and created? Follow the Imagineers every step of the way on YouTubeInstagram and stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes stories on the Disney Parks Blog. You never know where the next exciting bright idea might pop up!