Disney's TOMORROWLAND Conceptual Art look at Tomorrowland

©Disney 2015
Tomorrowland in Tomorrowland, conceptual art. 

Here’s Tomorrowland, ready for watching.

Director: Brad Bird
Screenwriters: Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof
Distribution: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Reviews: Mixed
The Bottom Line: It lost Disney $120-140 million (w/out taking into account home media, merchandising, or syndication revenue). Critics tended to love its visuals, but found the storyline shaky and/or incoherent, and the ending underwhelmed.

Here’s a long-ish quote from Director Brad Bird to frame what I have to say about this movie:

People will argue about whether we told the proper story or not. People ask, ‘Why did you spend so much time in a car when you could have been in Tomorrowland?’ But the movie was always intended to be a road movie and its titled seemed to suggest, to some people, that the whole movie was going to take place in Tomorrowland. We had a lot of ideas for Tomorrowland but just running around Tomorrowland is not a movie. There has to be a conflict. It has to be somewhat interesting. We set out to make a fable or a fairy tale about what happened to the positive view of the future and how can we get it back and pursue that idea. For better or worse, we did.

So, a few pieces of information about how and why I watched Tomorrowland. 

I think if I’d watched Tomorrowland in 2015, when it came out, I would’ve professed to hate it. And part of me probably would have hated it, but part of me would have liked it, too. There are parts that are just worth liking, no matter how you look at it. The beautiful cityscape, for instance — what’s not to like? Which is probably part of the reason why reviewers criticized the filmmakers for spending too little time in Tomorrowland itself and too much time following the characters around the world.

There were moments in the film that seemed completely wacko. Like when the Eiffel Tower turned out to be a rocketship. And the physics was completely unsubstantiated. But look — here’s the main thing about Tomorrowland — it’s a kids’ movie. And last I checked, kids are looking for action and adventure and inspiration, not for perfect physics, not even for fly-throughs of a beautiful cityscape.

Adults are looking for perfect physics and beautiful cityscapes, and these reviewers wrote their reviews from adult points-of-view.

It’s a bit ironic, because in my mind one of the main points of Tomorrowland was to bring all of its viewers into the mind of a child. That means pure imagination. It also means hope for the future, check your cynicism and skepticism at the door. In one way, it was hard for me to do that, to not sit there dismissing the movie as far-fetched and idealized. In another way, it was perfectly possible. Either through writing or through my natural personality, I’ve hung onto my child’s imagination. But I recall being pretty cynical as a child and — no surprise — I can be a pretty cynical adult. Or young adult, whatever I’m classified as now.

But, you know, a little ways into this movie I decided to curb the cynicism and take this movie and take the single point it was trying to make. Which wasn’t really that young people or smart people are going to save the world, nor that there’s any quantifiable way to measure that, but actually something much simpler.

Reserve some hope for the future.

During the 2010s, I was in the slow but steady process of giving up. Not on myself, but on the future of — not the world — humanity. I actually hate it when people use the “future of the world” as stand-in for the “future of humanity,” because they’re two different things altogether. Sorry, if you haven’t noticed, but the world was here a long time before us and will, in all likelihood, be here a long time after us. We are rather small in the grand scale of things and if we think that any of our missteps could actually destroy the world, then we’ve got problems other than climate change and nuclear destruction. We’ve also got an ego issue.

But I think it’s just that. Humans do, collectively, have an ego issue. It’s difficult for people to imagine that the world existed long before a single human thought was issued and that, should humanity fall into extinction, the world would chug along; nature would consume our cities, trees slowly uprooting asphalt, high-rises crumbling, animals creeping into the suburbs, rain falling, world turning, oil reserves restoring… Life and humanity aren’t synonymous. Historically speaking, they’ve sometimes been at odds. Nature’s always been the great decider, the great foe in its various forms: fire, flood, tornado.

In some ways, Tomorrowland does conflate the end of the world with the end of humanity — with the end of “life as we know it.” When Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), the ineffable teenager who eventually proves humanity’s saving grace, looks into the mirror of the future, she sees — essentially — the end of life as she knows it.

One funny thing about people: we’re very attached to life as we know it. But life changes. It’s not always sustainable in the same forms. And we adapted. We’ve always adapted. My stance, even after I gave up on the “future,” has never been to embrace the end of humanity. It’s been to believe in the resilience of humanity against all odds, to believe that no matter how bad it gets the human spark, human ingenuity, will see us through. Us as a collective species, not as a whole.

And, actually, Tomorrowland isn’t saying that bad things won’t happen. It’s saying that the power of the human mind can avert the worst.

Something a little depressing about Tomorrowland is that it got the kid-adult thought pattern dichotomy about right. Adults look at Tomorrowland and see an unrealistic, idealistic fable. Kids look at it and think, “Wow, Casey is cool! She saved the world! I could save the world!” And then the kids grow up, and maybe one in a thousand, if I’m being generous, decides to do something that they think will save the world. The others trudge off to their office jobs, morning by morning. And if they watch Tomorrowland again, they’re bitter about it, even while seeing the smiles on their own children’s faces.

For whatever reason, we lose hope as we grow older.

I’ve spoken before about the story of Pandora. When she releases the evils from their jar, she slaps the lid back on at the very end, trapping the very last thing inside the jar. And what is that thing? It’s hope. Some have taken this positively — as in that hope is stored for us. Others — the ancient Greeks included, I’m willing to bet — take it negatively. Hope is withheld. A kid, or anyone who’s retained their kid’s imagination, can take it two ways at once. Hope may be withheld, but you can always open the jar or break it. Hope may be stored, but there are those who leave it stored, rather than using it. Storing and withholding are the same thing, in the end. Either way, it takes force of will to seize on whatever remains for you.

I challenge you to look at the story of Pandora in two ways at once. And I challenge you to have faith in the future. Not faith that the future will look exactly as you imagine it, but faith that the future will be livable, that we will make it so. I challenge you to remind yourself that things have changed before and that things will change again and that humanity, born in flux, is ready to challenge and adapt and survive.

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