“You mean you don’t have a plan?”
“I have a plan, I just haven’t thought of it yet!”
This quoted piece of dialogue from the new movie Tomorrowland could easily summarize my experience with this highly anticipated 2015 film. As a lifelong enthusiast of science-fiction and space-exploration, Walt Disney’s optimistic brand of science-themed content from those classic Ward Kimball-directed episodes of The Wonderful World of Disney(“Man In Space”, “Man And The Moon” “Mars And Beyond”) to Walt’s infamous plans for an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow(E.P.C.O.T.) has always been a great interest of mine. So when this movie was first announced it immediately perked my interest, as just the title alone hinted at the endless potential of this project. The fact it was going to be brought to life by the man who brought us The Incredibles(Brad Bird) was merely icing on the cake.
As the release date approached, I was determined to see the earliest possible showing at the theatre closest to the Happiest Place on Earth. But when I had opportunity to attend a press junket with Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeff Jensen, George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Tim McGraw and Raffey Cassidy all in attendance, I decided to change those plans and immediately seized the opportunity.
It was at the beautiful Montage Beverly Hills Hotel where our Press Junket took place, and while it took a while to actually get started(the event ended up being 15 minutes late) there was genuine excitement from the press when the cast and crew came one by one.
The first question, aimed at writer Damon Lindelof, was “How did this film come about?” He answered that it started with a discussion with Disney Production Head Sean Baily, where they talked a lot about Marvel movies and “a number of princess/fairy tale movies in the pipeline” but pondered possible projects wondering ‘What else should a Disney movie be?’ Lindelof said in these conversations ‘I don’t know what it would be about, but I would go see a movie called Tomorrowland’ and said he has always been really interested in the future, but felt most every movie in the past 20-30 years has featured a future he didn’t want to live, be it “teenagers trying to kill other teenagers or robots eradicating mankind or apocalyptic wastelands all being populated by Charlize Theron, [which] are all great, but what about that other future?” and became very interested in the history of Disney, Imagineers, the theme parks and how it connected to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Also discussed was how Entertainment Weekly tv critic Jeff Jensen joined the product as a storyman, with Lindelof explaining that Jensen, “wrote about Lost extensively and had crazy theories that were more imaginative than anything the writers had come up with.” He also felt it was a good idea in general to collaborate with critics. Jensen said he and Lindelof got along well, as they liked a lot of the same things. Bird explained he didn’t join the project until later, explaining he was an admirer of Damon’s work, particularly uncredited work that he did at the end of Bird’s last movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. When Lindelof shared he was working on this idea, Bird said he got hooked immediately.
The cast then started to get asked questions, with Tim McGraw first being asked as a father with three daughters whether it was “oddly comfortable” to play a more nurturing father as opposed to some other character he’s played. McGraw replied that it did, explaining the scene in the car(which is featured a bit in the trailer) where conversations about life and God were reminiscent of conversations he had with his daughters and that he even drew a recent experience with his daughter in order to act frustrated with Britt Robertson’s character, Casey. Britt Robertson praised Raffey Cassidy, who plays Athena in the movie, explaining she sort of played the “mother” in the movie and that she was the glue sort of held all the other performances together. When 11-year-old Raffey was asked if she really tried to keep everyone in line, she replied “I try my best!” Clooney got asked if he viewed this project as being “bold”, George joked in his usual Clooney way, “Um, putting me in a big summer movie is very bold thought!” He also said how when Bird and Damon came to his house and offered a role “we’ve written for you” he opened up the script where the description of his character was ’55-year-old has-been’ he said “Hey Hey Hey Hey Hey! Which part am I reading for?” He then seriously explained he did indeed think it was bold of Disney to do a big summer movie that wasn’t either a sequel or a comic-book movie and that he loved the idea that one’s future is not preordained or predestined and that if you’re involved, one person can make a difference and make things better.
George Clooney is a man who is as famous for his personal life and political activism as he is his leading man roles, so naturally the first audience question was directed at him and inquiring what were his thoughts on the themes of this movie about being optimistic for the future. Clooney explained that as a child of the Cold War era, that even though he grew up in a world believing the world would end in an nuclear holocaust, it was also a time of the individual, pointing to the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights and the protest to the Vietnam War during the 60s-70s, explaining in those times one actually felt one person could actually make a difference and that individual voices matter and could change things. In Clooney’s words, “I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind, I always felt that it was going to work out in the end, and I still feel that way”, thus revealing himself to be much more of an optimist than his cynical character, Frank Walker. He also expressed that he really likes what he sees with young people and feels the world will and is getting better all the time.
Brad Bird was asked about the role NASA played in production, and how it played with the theme of optimism. Bird shared that he can remember the moon landings, how he was on a plane from Denver when Apollo 11 was landing and how disappointed he was in missing it, but fortunately there were “technical issues” with the plane he was on, so he got to land early and then rushed to the tv screen where 400 people were gathered and when Neil Armstrong landed, there was this cheer and pride among everyone that he had never forgotten. When Tomorrowland was in its preproduction stage, the space shuttle was making its last trip around L.A., which Bird explained there was a weird combination of pride and sadness with everyone due to the shuttle program shutting down. Bird was overall very proud to have actually had a chance to film at NASA, and even said that one one highlights of being on set was getting to witness a launch from the launch pad, and that if film in any way encouraged NASA to do more than it would be a great thing. Bird was later asked by someone to elaborate on the technical parts of the shuttle and what his thoughts were on Space X’s Falcon 9 to which Bird replied he was an admirer of Elon Musk and that his spirit entrepreneurial spirit was very much in the spirt of the optimistic theme of Tomorrowland.
Another question someone asked was a general “How do you try to make the world a better place?” Britt Robertson pointed out as a citizen in California, she’s trying to not use sprinklers and limit her water use as much as possible for the drought and explains that, yes, it is a pretty small act in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the small acts that truly make a difference. Clooney and McGraw answered the questions by saying as big stars, they try to use their star-power to bring attention to those less fortunate and countries in crises such as South Sudan, pointing out that they are not policy makers so they don’t have real control, but are hopeful through their fame they could shine a light on issues often being ignored.
“Is there a [Disneyland attraction] in development for Tomorrowland, and if there were, what is it? What attractions would you guys hope it would be and what would it incorporate from the movie?” At first the panel pretty much joked off the question, with Brit saying “I think they should just update the Carousel of Progress!” and Brad explained they had this idea for the Carousel Of Progress “Where suddenly in the last act they would present this horrible ‘This is what happens!/This is what could happen!’ And the animatronics get horrified!” and then said that George is pitching jet-packs as there was a scene where robotic paparazzi invade his house but it was cut out of the movie. When the moderator then asked seriously “So, in other words, there’s nothing planned?” Bird replied that the Imagineers are always planning things and that we had to wait and see how the movie does. So there you have it folks, if you’re tired of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland being represented by a lower Astro Orbiter, a PeopleMover-less track and inexplicable attractions like “Innoventions”, it's pretty much your duty to see this film opening weekend and let this movie make Avengers numbers!
“What was Walt Disney’s influence on this movie?” Lindelof actually gave the most interesting answer of the whole junket, when he revealed that the man Walt Disney actually had a much bigger role in the movie, that there was going to be a lot more dialogue explaining how Walt was a member of a secretive alliance that had included members like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Jules Verne and Gustave Effiel, and that it was to be explained that Tomorrowland at Disneyland was actually a cover-up for the real city you see in the movie. Lindelof explained this exposition was filmed, but was deleted from the movie, because A. Films tend to be better when they aren’t bogged down in too much exposition and B. They were afraid most of the dialogue would result in turning the movie into an advertisement to the theme parks as opposed to the film standing on its own. He did point out, however, that if one was interested in this exposition, to check out the book Before Tomorrowland, written by Jensen and Jonathan Case which is on bookstore shelves now.
Bird merely confirmed this and explained the greatness of Walt’s legacy as an optimistic futurist, and how the theme park element of Disney World was merely secondary, and that Walt was really ecstatic about building an utopian futuristic city with EPCOT, that it was a shame yet understandable why that element of Disney World never got made as you needed a figure such as Walt Disney to have made such an impossible dream become reality. He concluded that he hoped this movie would inspire people, particularly younger generations, to look at the future as a fun and exciting place to live in and that others could help continue his legacy by having new ideas and creative visions to build a better future, just as Walt had hoped.
As the press junket concluded, I rushed over to Mr. Brad Bird as the narcissistic millennial in me attempted(and failed) to gain a selfie. One guy who was ahead of me, though, did manage to shake his hand and say to him “I just want to say ‘thank you’ for bringing back my tomorrow!” Realizing I couldn’t possibly express a notion that could possibly top that, if by any small possible chance Mr. Bird is reading this, I would like to say one statement, Thank You, for bringing back my tomorrow!
And I can’t wait for all of you to experience that tomorrow on May 22nd!