“We were assuming the future was bright. Tomorrowland is asking the question ‘What’s happened to that kind of optimism, and can it come back?'”–writer/director Brad Bird, in the “Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland with Brad Bird” Blu-ray extra feature.
*Warning: there are some Tomorrowland spoilers ahead.*
I’ve been very vocal about my love of Tomorrowland: I wrote a glowing review shortly after it came out, I’ve tweeted about it more than once, and I even made a T-shirt and hat to wear after being unable to find merchandise in stores (other than a few different pins, which I’ve bought). Despite a few flaws I think it’s a funny, engaging, exciting, and heartwarming movie.
The thing is, in addition to being a fun piece of entertainment, I think that Tomorrowland is pretty special in other ways too. It’s inspiring on multiple levels, and it challenges the notion that we’re on a hopeless course and suggests that it’s not too late to turn things around.
Tomorrowland actually echoes a lot of what Walt Disney himself believed in. He was fascinated by the future; the Tomorrowland section of Magic Kingdom was based upon his love of progress and the possibilities that he felt modern technology could bring to people’s lives. Even the EPCOT Center park was based on Walt’s design for a futuristic city, and he often spoke of robot butlers and flying cars not as science fiction but as technology he felt would become commonplace in our world someday. Several Disney Parks attractions throughout the years–some created by Walt, some not–have shown concepts of what the future could hold.
With that in mind, I truly think that Brad Bird’s portrayal of Tomorrowland in the movie is similar to what Walt imagined when he created Tomorrowland in the theme park. The film version of Tomorrowland, with its jetpacks and hover trains, echoes Walt’s exciting vision of amazing futuristic possibilities. Walt was inspired by the future and was focused on making it a reality, from his ideas behind Tomorrowland to his designs for Progress City. Watching Tomorrowland inspired me and reminded me of that optimism.
There’s a sense of unlimited potential in Walt’s visions of the future, and that same sense of ‘anything is possible’ is a central theme in Tomorrowland.
The movie addresses the seemingly apocalyptic course our planet is on. While the “reason” for this doom-and-gloom is ultimately a part of the film’s fiction, there’s a very real truth to the issue: that people would rather focus on the negative than take action to change it. In the movie this hopelessness is shown in Frank Walker, a character who knows that the end is coming but has given up and just waits for it to arrive. In a way he echoes the sentiments of many people in real life who see these negative things with cynical eyes and assume it’s too late to fix anything.
Main character Casey, on the other hand, when learning about dire scenarios that the world is facing (war, environmental issues, etc), wants to know how people can make things better, rather than just giving up like so many of her peers seem to have done. She dreams of traveling to the stars, and she looks ahead with an optimism that (as Brad Bird says in a Blu-ray extra featurette) seems to be missing from today’s world. While watching the film, it’s hard not to get swept up in her enthusiasm. Not just because she’s the hero and you want her to win, but because she epitomizes hope and you find yourself wanting to see that hope survive.
The movie is inspiring in other ways as well, beyond just optimism and visions of the future. The film’s main character is a strong and smart young woman–something that’s rare (I’m not saying that strong and smart young women are rare. Because they’re not, they’re just sadly under-represented in film)–and one of her companions, Athena, is also a strong female character who seriously kicks butt throughout the story. It’s very cool to see a big movie led by young women, especially a science fiction action movie. It shows a female character who’s into science and technology, which is really cool and hopefully inspiring to other girls and women who like the same things. Tomorrowland passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test–which asks if a work of fiction has at least two women who talk about something other than a man–with flying colors.
Also, late in the film there’s a scene in which new people are being recruited to be a part of Tomorrowland. Several different ethnicities, ages, as well as both men and women are portrayed in this. These people are shown coming from several different backgrounds and fields, too, from artists to scientists. The message is clear: it’s going to take everyone to make a future like that in Tomorrowland happen.
Tomorrowland inspired me to stand up and do my part to make the world a better place, and it made me wonder: what would happen if people in the real world really did put aside their differences and collaborate on the future? Could we bring to life the future that Walt Disney believed was possible?
Right after seeing Tomorrowland, my wife and I went across the street to Target and purchased a faucet filter. Usually we regularly bought cases of bottled water, despite knowing the environmental impact of that practice, and though we occasionally discussed buying a filter we just hadn’t actually done it. After we saw the movie, though, we were suddenly motivated to make it happen. Since then we haven’t bought any more bottled water, and have instead refilled the bottles we have with filtered tap water. This may not seem like much, but it’s the start of a focus on helping to save the world and it came about as result of going to see Tomorrowland. There was something about Tomorrowland that inspired us, even in this little way, to help work towards the possible future that the movie portrayed. In Tomorrowland you’ll find a powerful message amid the action and fantasy, and it may even renew a sense of optimism and a desire to help bring about an amazing future.
There’s a scene early in the movie involving a homemade jetpack and a question: what would its purpose be, and how it would make the world a better place. The response perfectly sums up what I felt when watching Tomorrowland:
“Anything’s possible. If I was walking down the street and I saw some kid with a jetpack fly over me, I’d believe anything’s possible. I’d be inspired. Doesn’t that make the world a better place?”