To talk about Tomorrowland, we need to go back in time. Not to 1955 or 1964 or even 1971, but to 2013 at the D23 Expo. Leading up to that year’s gathering of Disney fans from around the world, an online and real world social media scavenger hunt called “The Optimist” was revealed to be a clever marketing campaign for an upcoming Disney film, Tomorrowland. In the story, a box was uncovered in the attic of a former Disney employee who worked with Walt in the 1950’s. Inside the box were some papers from a company called Plus Ultra, blueprints for the 1964 New York World’s Fair version of it’s a small world, and other strange artifacts including a silver disc containing an animated short about the problems with our society.
All of that buzz created huge demand for a film that hadn’t even been filmed yet. My expectations were high and even as trailers came out and discouraged many fans from wanting to see it, I was still ready for this adventure. Tomorrowland offers some amazing visuals and an engaging premise, but lacks a deep explanation into how things came to be. Necessary exposition is shockingly absent in the film, but is slightly there in a prequel novel called Before Tomorrowland, which ironically tells a more entertaining story. That book is basically required reading to fully understand all that’s going on in the film.
The film begins with Frank Walker (George Clooney) talking to you about the future as he shares his past as a boy genius who found his way into a secret world called Tomorrowland. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) interrupts his prologue to share her story. As an optimistic, rebellious teenager, Casey was selected by a girl robot named Athena as the last hope to save the future. Casey is lead to Frank’s house and eventually to a “new world” that was meant to be utopian, but failed. It’s up to Frank, Casey and Athena to set things right. Since the entire film is told in flashback, the stakes are instantly lowered as you know at least two of the leads will make it. It’s a storytelling device that works for films like Titanic, but not for Tomorrowland.
The first ten minutes are Disney geek heaven with a trip to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Another scene takes place in a nerdy collector’s dream shop called “Blast from the Past,” which is full of memorabilia from Star Wars, Marvel, Star Trek, Tron and The Black Hole. Being a Brad Bird film, this scene also features references to his other films The Incredibles, The Iron Giant and even Ratatouille. And the few scenes that actually take place in Tomorrowland feature references for Disney Parks fans to delight in (and a not-so-hidden Space Mountain). These moments are enough to keep fans engaged, but not enough to save the film.
In addition to a weak villain that never feels threatening, Tomorrowland suffers from not enough Tomorrowland. Of the 130 minute runtime, barely 40 minutes actually takes place in the city of the future and once there, we spend almost the whole time indoors. The journey to get there starts off strong, but quickly wears thin. Once there, the climax doesn’t quite pay off.
For all of its problems, Tomorrowland does have a redeeming and satisfying ending, one that will leave every dreamer with goosebumps. It’s a shame the film had so many flaws and underperformed at the box office, leading Disney to abandon plans for a third Tron film under the mistaken belief that family sci-fi films are unprofitable. Had it been successful, it also could have had an impact on the real Tomorrowlands at Disney Parks across the globe. Sadly, none of that is to be.
Tomorrowland comes to home video on October 13th, where it is available as a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital HD Combo Pack, a standalone DVD, and digitally from all major providers. On disc, there are two options for viewing the film, the original theatrical version or with the Plus Ultra short attached (I recommend the latter option as it gives you some of the missing exposition). This short was partially shown at the 2013 D23 Expo, coming full circle from that original marketing campaign.
Disney’s 2.20:1 aspect ratio faithfully recreates the theatrical experience of Tomorrowland. Detail is excellently preserved and the city of the future dazzles in high definition. I didn’t detect any flaws with the video presentation.
On DVD, a ton of detail becomes blurry in scenes depicting Tomorrowland. It does the best job it can, but a visual effects-heavy film like this deserves to be seen in HD.
On Blu-Ray, Tomorrowland is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound track. Score fills all speakers and big action scenes put your subwoofer to use while dialogue remains mainly in the front channels. Other audio options include French and Spanish 5.1. There is also a stereo descriptive audio track.
On DVD, the film is presented in English, French and Spanish 5.1 tracks along with the 2.0 descriptive audio.
- Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland with Brad Bird (7:09) – Brad Bird and Damon Lindeloff lead this discussion about the future with some rare footage of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland under construction during it’s various versions. It also covers filming at NASA.
- Casting Tomorrowland (7:27) – Damon Lindeloff and Brad Bird gush about George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie with a few behind-the-scenes shots and audition footage.
- A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session (6:03) – Anthony Giacchino, composer Michael’s brother, interviews him candidly about scoring the film. Among the discussion points is Giacchino’s love of Richard Sherman and his excitement in using “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in the score.
- The World of Tomorrow Science Hour – Hosted by Futurologist David Nix (5:08) – A collection of “outtakes” from a proposed episode of the Disneyland TV series is presented with a preface that Walt Disney personally asked David Nix (Hugh Laurie) to create this program.
- Animated Short: The Origins of Plus Ultra (3:26) – This new animated short was produced in the style of the Disneyland Tomorrowland episodes and depicts mankind’s destructive future while discussing the origins of Plus Ultra. It was “designed” to be shown at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and invites you to the future at the end.
- Brad Bird Production Diaries – Two of Brad Bird’s production diaries are offered here with a Play All option or individually.
- The First Day (1:47) – Brad Bird takes you to the first day of shooting, which was some of the establishing shots of the World’s Fair.
- NASA (2:46) – This feature discusses filming on location at NASA and is almost entirely recycled in the feature “Remembering the Future” making its inclusion puzzling.
- Blast from the Past Commercial (0:41) – A commercial for the store from the film highlights some of the items they have for sale.
- Deleted Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions (23:28) – Six deleted scenes are presented individually or with a “Play All” option. They are “Joking on the Eiffel Tower,” “Young Casey vs. the Volcano,” “Doomsday Living Room,” “As Originally Written Casey the Downer,” “What Happened to Tomorrowland?” and “What is Tomorrowland?.” Each scene features an introduction by Brad Bird and an explanation as to why they were cut.
Three extra bonus features can be viewed after redeeming your digital copy through Disney Movie Rewards. The digital site features two additional deleted scenes and an extra Brad Bird Production Diary.
- Deleted Scene with Filmmaker Introduction: Frank Walker, Age 10 (5:30) – In the film, we see a brief moment of young Frank testing out his jet pack. This extended scene adds more color to his difficult childhood on a farm with a father who didn’t understand him.
- Deleted Scene with Filmmaker Introduction: Great Big Beautiful World’s Fair (2:20) – More World’s Fair moments were filmed than what wound up in the final film. See more of the fair, including an extended moment on Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, in this deleted scene.
- Brad Bird Production Diaries: Tomorrowland vs. the Weather (2:07) – Bard Bird shares his displeasure at uncooperative weather during filming. From large clouds to rain and snow, the director couldn’t catch a break.
The only bonus features on the DVD are “Brad Bird Production Diary: NASA” and “Blast from the Past Commercial.”
Packaging & Design
Tomorrowland is housed inside a standard-sized Blu-Ray case with the blue disc on the right, DVD on the left. Inserts include a code for Disney Movies Anywhere that features the Tomorrowland coin and barely mentions Disney Movie Rewards (could it be going away?). The other insert is an ad for Disney Movie Club. The case is housed inside of a flat slipcover that merely recreates the artwork underneath without any embossing or foil effects.
Both discs open with ads for Disney Movies Anywhere, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Inside Out. Selecting “Sneak Peeks” plays ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks and Casey Undercover. The menu features a hand touching the Tomorrowland pin that takes you to a view of the city from the wheat field.
Tomorrowland is an okay film that didn’t live up to the hype that initially surrounded it. It’s not bad, but it’s also not great. The bonus features are mostly wonderful and harken to the nostalgic feeling Disney fans yearned for in the film. Those who loved the film will definitely be pleased with the way it’s been treated on Blu-Ray and digital.