Disneyland Autopia, 1955
The freedom of the open road…where the cars can’t leave the track.
Kids can’t wait to get the keys to the adult world, to be able to call the shots and make their own decisions. And driving is the ultimate expression of control over your life. So why does that still work when you know the cars aren’t real?
At Disneyland, the line between reality and fantasy is pretty effectively blurred, but any kid can tell that they’re not able to take the Autopia cars out on the actual highway. However, that might just be why it works so well. The ride simulates driving in the real world – but it isn’t the real world. Instead, adult freedom has been brought squarely into the kid world. It’s the illusion of reality that makes it so much fun.
At its core, Autopia is simply freeway driving, complete with traffic and exhaust and the kind of navigating on autopilot that you find in an average Monday morning commute. The ride has obvious appeal to kids: Your parents are forced into the passenger seat while you get behind the wheel. But even adults find Autopia enjoyable, because of the way it translates such familiar activities into a kid-sized world.
At other Disney parks the ride is themed around a race track, and for fans of racing sports I’m sure it’s fun to imagine yourself crossing the finish line. But I prefer Disneyland’s version of the highway, with overpasses and tunnels and a scenic route. Ride it at night when the headlights of your little car really make it feel like you’re on your commute back home to your tiny kid-sized house – probably in Toon Town.