At the end of my D23 movie news roundup from yesterday I mentioned Tomorrowland. I didn’t want to go into the film there because I feel like it needs a bit more explanation, especially considering how little we still know of the film. You have to go back to last year for the earliest reports of the film. Brad Bird, who wrote and directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Disney/Pixar was announced as the director for a new film for Disney, bumping his rumored project with Pixar about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. People immediately began speculating that Bird was returning to Disney for a sequel to The Incredibles (something, incidentally, that needs to happen).
That wasn’t the case, however, as the title for his new film was revealed to be 1952. Little else was known, except that he would be writing the film with Damon Lindelof (longtime writer for Lost as well as Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness) as well as newcomer Jeff Jensen (a fantastic writer for the magazine “Entertainment Weekly”, who was responsible for most of their coverage of Lost). Then, early this year, Brad Bird tweeted an image of a cardboard box from the Disney Archives labeled “1952”, which contained a variety of interesting items including pictures of Walt Disney with various other celebrities (Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart), a record, an obscured issue of “Amazing Stories”, some Technicolor film, an image that appears to be an aerial photograph, along with many other mysterious items.
No official explanation was given for this box, though given the film’s title and the label on the box the two are obviously connected. Even though a short while later the film’s title was changed to Tomorrowland, the box continued to hold a fascination. “Tomorrowland”, of course, evokes the area of Disneyland (and the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Park in Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, plus the upcoming Shanghai Disneyland Park) where rides like Space Mountain, the PeopleMover, Autopia, Captain Eo, Submarine Voyage, the Astro Orbiter and many other classic rides are or were located. Tomorrowland has always been a staple of Walt’s vision of his Disney parks, capturing one corner of the imagination represented by the parks, sharing time with Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and others. Tomorrowland and “the challenge and promise of the future” were always at the forefront of Walt’s mind. That quote is from Walt’s Disneyland dedication speech from 1955, as is this:
Tomorrow can be a wonderful age. Our scientists today are opening the doors of the Space Age to achievements that will benefit our children and generations to come. The Tomorrowland attractions have been designed to give you an opportunity to participate in adventures that are a living blueprint of our future.
Of course, the title-based speculation about Tomorrowland centered around possible ways the movie could adapt aspects of the park area for the big screen. Perhaps something centered around Space Mountain or one of the other rides. Maybe it would be set in the future. These speculations might turn out to be correct, but when combined with a box of interesting objects from 1952, the picture got a bit murkier. And then, Disney launched its Alternate Reality Game (ARG), “The Optimist”, which was eventually revealed to be a tie-in to the film. “The Optimist” centered around a young filmmaker named Amelia, who blogs about the discoveries she makes among her grandfather’s belongings.
Over the 6 weeks that “The Optimist” ran (culminating in events set during the D23 expo), we learned of a secret project envisioned by Walt Disney. It told the story of a rumored meeting at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris of Thomas Edison, Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla, who met to discuss plans for the future of humanity. Fast forward to the 1964 World’s Fair, at which Disney premiered early versions of some of his attractions (and at which at least part of the film is based, according to set reports). According to the mythology of “The Optimist”, Disney was following in the footsteps of those great thinkers, imagining a future designed free from corporate interests. It’s the sort of idea that led to his conception of EPCOT, initially envisioned as a complete city designed to benefit humanity. It was, literally, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Amelia uncovered alternate versions of some of Walt’s rides from the World’s Fair, including an alternate audio track to the Carousel of Progress and an addition to “it’s a small world”, which elaborated on his plans and dreams for a world better than the one we’re living in, where humanity works together in a scientific fashion to meet the needs of its people.
It’s still a bit of a mystery as to how this all relates to the film. The writers claim that they found the “1952” box and used the contents as inspiration for a story featuring Walt’s vision of Tomorrowland. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that they wrote their story and then constructed the box to add to the behind-the-scenes mystery. (Since D23, they’ve released a free app which allows the user to explore some of the items in the “1952” box, along with narration from writer Jeff Jensen, interviews with Lindelof, imagineers and other people and audio clips of Walt, himself. It’s an interesting mindgame, which provides a look into a hypothetical secret world behind Walt’s genius.) What’s not fictional is Walt’s devotion to the idea of the future. His love of the future, along with his quote, “Keep moving forward,” were already featured on film in the 2007 animated film, Meet the Robinsons, though in a much lighter way.
Tomorrowland will star George Clooney, and is rumored to feature Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie. At this point, we still know very little. Potential plot leaks have outlined a dystopian alternate reality story, of a future created by Walt’s 1964 vision gone astray, but at this point we really don’t know. One clue from the Tomorrowland app might be found in Jules Verne’s novel, The Begum’s Fortune, which I’m going to read as soon as I can track it down. It tells the story of two men who split a fortune and design separate cities based on their ideals. One uses his money to create something that sounds very much in line with Tomorrowland, a utopian ideal focused on public health, while the other devotes his energy to manufacturing war machines. Having read a lot of Jeff Jensen’s writings on Entertainment Weekly, it’s easy for me to imagine him placing this clue.
Needless to say, my hopes are high for Tomorrowland. It has some seriously creative people behind it, even taking into account Lindelof’s recent faults, and Disney has shown itself willing to take chances. I love the idea that we’re getting something that clearly points out its inspirations, and that Walt’s visionary abilities are getting some of the attention they deserve. In the end, I imagine that very little of what has been leaked, teased and discussed will have a huge bearing on Tomorrowland, but they’ve already gone a long way for setting a tone and a context for the film. For me, Tomorrowland is the upcoming film that has the strongest grip on my attention (while Saving Mr. Banks has the strongest grip on my emotions). At this point, Bird, Jensen and Lindelof have built themselves a lot of expectations to live up to. But I’m an Optimist, and I can’t wait to see what’s still to come.