Walt Disney’s storied career was never limited to the creation of a mouse. The man shepherded a multitude of ideas, worlds, and new ways of thinking, and inspired so many others to do the same, all in the hope of making a better tomorrow. This is no more evident than in one of the great classic Disney themes, heard throughout Disney theme parks’ Carousel of Progress:
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day.
There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow,
And tomorrow is just a dream away.
The Carousel wowed audiences at the 1964 New York World’s Fair during an era when the imaginations of a generation ran wild. A mere five years later, NASA put a man on the moon. What next? Anything was possible. Anything we could dream, we could do.
We’ve since lost that sense of hope and optimism. Flying cars and jetpacks are fun little commodities for the rich. We don’t dream of those kinds of things anymore because reality doesn’t let us. We’re far too busy caught up in what we can’t do. Even NASA has all but faded from the public consciousness.
Casey (Britt Robertson) is a teenage troublemaker dreaming big in a world full of barricades. She’s approached by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a small, freckled girl with a British accent not unlike one of the kids from Mary Poppins. Athena sneaks Casey a small ‘T’ pin as an invitation to Tomorrowland, a place of progress and innovation where politics, violence, and ill-will are nonexistent. Disney scholars will be reminded of Walt’s vision for an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, or…you know, that one Disney park with the big, white ball.
After getting a brief glimpse of Tomorrowland, Casey makes it her mission to get there, but a mysterious gang of audio-animatronic robots start after her to keep her from doing so. In many ways, these sequences channel the same spirit one might feel while riding a ride at Disney World – exhilaration, followed by an overwhelming feeling of limitless possibility. It’s a feat thus far only accomplished by the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films, and Tomorrowland proves itself the perfect showcase of that same sense of wonder Disney fosters in its theme park guests.
After several surprisingly close calls for a kid’s flick, Casey is led to Frank (George Clooney), a bitter former resident of Tomorrowland who’s convinced it isn’t real anymore, that the world of potential he’d been introduced to as a child could never be what it once was. Frank is a reflection of us as we move from childhood to adulthood – we might resent our loved ones for making colorful idealists of us, after the grey reality of life sinks in and blots out our fantasies completely.
And Frank, like much of the world today, has grown complacent, accepting of a grimy state of affairs rather than actively working to make things better. Everyone always seems to talk about what’s wrong without actually doing anything to improve it. It’s here that Tomorrowland not only proves itself to be enchanting escapism in its own right, but also commenting on that escapism. We need people to dream big, to make the impossible possible, and to help us fly again. Otherwise, we are doomed to die in the dirt with the rest of humanity, itself also resigned to its own demise. It’s all a very apt metaphor for society I hadn’t expected – kudos to screenwriter Damon Lindelof for lending enough subtext for the adults of the audience to chew on.
In the end, Tomorrowland carves its own niche in the coming-of-age tradition, recalling The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or any number of Disney’s own live-action classics. It is steeped in old-school Disneydom, though never beholden to it, using the company’s tradition as the launch pad to rocket into its own world of inspiration. And it’s a great antithesis to all the doom-and-gloom of today’s gritty, real-world blockbusters.
Director Brad Bird stated in an interview that he turned down the chance to direct Star Wars Episode VII, Disney’s relaunch of the stagnant Star Wars franchise, in favor of Tomorrowland, recalling that the latter film would never have been made had he jumped ship. Bird proudly puts his own, original stamp on Tomorrowland, and it’s fitting when a scene in the film sees a memorabilia store filled with predominantly Star Wars merchandise destroyed in an explosive scuffle. You can imagine Bird standing behind the camera with a little smile on his face, nodding in satisfaction.
No, Tomorrowland isn’t another corporate blockbuster with a brand to promote. Bird practices what he preaches, creating a charming, transporting blockbuster rather than sitting around complaining about why everyone else’s movies don’t work. And while the film overreaches a bit, doesn’t sufficiently answer all of its questions, suffers from slightly awkward pacing, and gets a bit heavy-handed in its call to action, that’s not the point. There’s a streak of greatness to Tomorrowland in how it speaks to the creative drive in all of us. It reinstates the old, idealist Disney doctrine, compelling us to dream up new ideas, new worlds, and new ways of thinking, just as Walt did. We could all stand to be reminded of that better tomorrow, myself included. Fortunately, it’s just a dream away.
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