Warning: if you read on, spoilers may be in your future
When I was a kid, going to Magic Kingdom, I loved Tomorrowland. Sure, my favorite attractions (Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, if you’re taking notes) were in other areas, but there was something about the aesthetic that’s always spoken to me. It was a vision of a possible, even a plausible, future. It was rockets and jetpacks, magnetic trains and robots, and it was a look at a tomorrow that I wanted very much to be a part of.
So I was very excited when Tomorrowland was announced, even more than I usually am for a Disney release. It was more than just a cool-looking movie, but it was childhood fantasies–the ones inspired by Walt’s vision of the future–come to life. At least, that was my hope as I watched every trailer over and over. I didn’t read too many articles in advance, I wanted to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but every time I watched the trailers and saw a glimpse of that world of tomorrow (complete with jetpacks) I got a little more excited.
On May 22nd, the movie’s release date, my wife and I went to the theater ready to be wowed. We were crossing our fingers, hoping that the film wouldn’t suck. That it would be more Pirates of the Caribbean and less Haunted Mansion (or, even worse, Tower of Terror).
The basic synopsis of the movie is this: a long time ago, a city was built just outside of our dimension. This secret place, Tomorrowland, was a haven for the best and brightest that the world had to offer. A place where they were free to dream and create, and that counted the likes of Tesla and Edison among its citizens. A place that, early on in the film, young inventor Frank Walker gets invited to by a mysterious girl called Athena.
Flash forward decades later, when we meet a brilliant young woman named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). Obsessed with someday traveling to the stars, she obtains a mysterious pin which shows her a vision of Tomorrowland. Her quest to see more of it eventually leads her to Athena and to Frank Walker, and adventures involving robots and an impending apocalypse ensue.
It was, thankfully, a great movie. There was action and adventure, there was heart and humor. It was well written and smartly executed, breathtaking and fun, funny and moving. The effects were beautiful, the pacing was great, and it struck a near perfect balance between what the adult me expected in a movie and what the kid me always wanted Tomorrowland (and Tomorrowland) to be.
Was the movie perfect? No, of course not. It dragged a bit early on (not much, but a bit), there were some obvious plot holes, and I would have liked to see more of Hugh Laurie’s character, David Nix. He was the ‘villain’ of the piece, though he was more misguided than evil, and there was a lot of backstory there that I would love to know more about. His motivation was clear enough, I just wanted them to delve into it even more. Plus, I adore Hugh Laurie as an actor and just think he should have had more screen time.
Also, the fact that the evil robot soldiers killed a few random innocent bystanders felt weirdly out of place to me (it was a low body count, but it still seemed gratuitous). Yes, in part it’s an action movie and they were establishing that these robots were bad guys, but in a movie about hope for the future the deaths seemed unnecessary.
If I have one more gripe about Tomorrowland, it’s that I wish that they spent more time in the futuristic city. This isn’t necessarily a negative point, though: they simply did such a great job bringing that possible world to life that I wanted to see more of it.
But what makes Tomorrowland special isn’t just the fact that it’s a fun movie, but rather that there’s inspiration amid the action and explosions. The movie carries with it a message of hope (and it delivers that message without beating viewers over the head with it). When my wife and I left the theater it made us want to help make the world a better place so we can achieve the future that it showed. Over the course of the movie we see environmental disasters and nuclear wars, but we also see a shining cityscape full of technological marvels, and the ultimate question is: which one would you want to work towards? Sure, Tomorrowland was basically an adventure movie about a teenager and a grouchy middle-aged man trying to stop the end of the world, but if you really look you could see a bit of that tomorrow… and really want to get there.
When Walt himself envisioned Tomorrowland–and, later, EPCOT–he saw a “great big beautiful tomorrow” (and you’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head). When I was a kid walking around Tomorrowland, I saw a bit of that possible future, too. Seeing it come to life on screen ignited that excitement I felt as a kid, seeing what the future could hold, and it reminded me as an adult that every day we make choices that affect which future we’re working towards.