Mousertainment Movies: Tomorrowland – An Appreciation

Mousertainment Memorandum: The following is my personal reaction to seeing the movie Tomorrowland this weekend.  This article will talk about the themes of the film and my responses to it, but there will be no plot point spoilers included. The only story points mentioned herein are those from trailers and ads.

Having already done a list of movies I thought were going to be worth seeing in 2015, I didn’t expect to stop mid-year and write a separate appreciation for one of them.  But I’m not sure the media or the public really get what this movie is about and I wanted to shine an extra spotlight on what may very well turn out to be my favorite movie of the year: Tomorrowland.

Now that’s a pretty bold statement considering there are still two Pixar films, a Marvel film and the return of Star Wars happening in the next six months! But this film surprised me in ways I never would have guessed from the trailers and I wanted to make sure that people who would “get” this film know that they should make the effort to go see it.

I personally worked pretty hard to stay spoiler free on this film. I didn’t opt to participate in the D23 Expo 2013 promotional game for the film when that was going on (there was a bit of a hunt that led to the participants receiving one of many promotional “T” pins for the film). I didn’t read details of what hints the filmmakers cryptically dropped there. And as the film’s release approached, I avoided watching interviews with cast and crew or reading reviews of the film.  Though I couldn’t help but be aware of the slightly negative buzz about the film coming from the critics and the public alike.  What wasn’t appealing to people, I wondered?

The only information I allowed myself was to watch the trailers to get a sense of how this film was being presented – which was as a family film with sci-fi and Disney park-related elements. (Which frankly would have been enough to get me into a theater seat!) But even as I watched the ongoing release of teasers and ads, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what this film was about!

There seemed to be something about an idealistic teenage girl, a cynical curmudgeonly scientist, a little girl, and some bad guys chasing them – all while they were trying to get to some magical place called “Tomorrowland”.

Again, that probably would have been enough for me to want to see it, but the later promotions for the film brought in a Walt Disney reference/nostalgia factor making me even more curious. But I still wanted to just see the film with no preconceptions or further information. That got a little harder when a friend saw it before me and wasn’t overly impressed. But still, I was determined to see it for myself and then make a judgement.

And I’m glad I did.

Part of the concern I and others had going into this film was the Damon Lindelof factor. The former LOST writer is particularly known for crafting complicated plots and not necessarily being able to satisfactorily conclude the clever ideas he comes up with.

This however, was countered for a lot of people by the Brad Bird factor – the man who had created such beautiful animated films as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles before moving on to become a live action film director. People’s concerns about Lindelof’s writing were mitigated for some by having Brad Bird in charge of the results.

For me, in the end, I saw some of each. The script was complicated and the story at times somewhat challenging to follow between the busy action elements and the sci-fi “McGuffin”. Also, there is a point in every script – usually the 2/3 or 3/4 mark, where a writer can see the finish line of the end of the story, but it gets rough at the top of that final hill trying to get up and over it and take the story all the way to where you know it’s ultimately going to wind up. And yes, that was the point in the film where the storytelling and dialogue got especially bumpy and a bit overly preachy. But that just means the film isn’t perfect – and a film doesn’t have to be perfect to be magical.

And I found this movie magical from beginning to end.

Then again, I think this film was tailor made for me. As I thought about it afterwards, I realized exactly why it touched me so deeply:

This is a Star Trek movie wearing a Disney costume.

If Star Trek and Disneyland had a baby – it would be Tomorrowland. Or, more accurately, if Walt Disney and Gene Roddenberry had ever collaborated on a movie, I think it would have looked a LOT like this one.

And I personally think that’s what’s either not being properly sold with the way the film is being presented in the advertising and/or it’s a beautiful, old-fashioned idealistic movie that may seem too gentle and optimistic for a modern cynical audience. Which, ironically, feeds right into what turns out to be the main themes of the movie:

Bad things happen if the dreamers stop dreaming.

and

If all we focus on are the negatives, then negative consquences happen as a result. But if we all took that same time and energy to focus on positives and making dreams come true, then wonderful things are created as a result.

And those messages hit me deeply right in my dreamer heart. And I think they define both the philosophies of Disney and Star Trek – that we can make amazing things happen if we just dream and believe and do.

I kept thinking throughout the film – Walt would love this. Walt would love this. Even aside from the very Disney messages being expressed in the film – the whole thing felt like a marvelous throwback to the live action Disney fantasy films of the past like The Absent-Minded Professor or Escape to Witch Mountain. It also strongly reminded me of one of my very favorite, completely underappreciated Disney animated films with a very similar message: Meet the Robinsons. That is another film about a young dreamer and what he and others accomplish by following those dreams as they “keep moving forward”.

This is the first film in a long time where I didn’t want to wait to buy the blu-ray – I wanted to go back and watch it again in a theater. The soaring visuals of the film in no small part contribute to this desire!

More importantly though, this was a film I wanted to show to children and say, “Look and see what any of you can do!” I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that I thought should be shown in every classroom like this one. It’s a perfect STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) story. But it rarely feels preachy and “politically correct” so much as feeling very Disney/Star Trek in its concept of what we can be and do – though I can see how it could be interpreted that way if people weren’t familiar with Walt Disney’s (and Gene Roddenberry’s) love of science and visions of a positive, creatable, inclusive future.  (For clarification – there is no actual Star Trek connection to this movie, but the philosophy expressed in the film is very Star Trek-like.) 

Tomorrowland was the future that Walt Disney wanted to make happen with his original concept of EPCOT – an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. And seeing that realized onscreen – and knowing that we still CAN make that community a reality if we applied all of that dreaming and doing talent out there – touched me very deeply. I’ll admit, I cried a lot seeing these dreams manifested onscreen.

If you’re a Disney fan – or a Star Trek fan – or a dreamer – or a doer – please do yourself a very big favor and go out and see this movie. And then let’s figure out a way that we can make that dreamers’ future into OUR future.

Have you seen Tomorrowland yet? Did it inspire you?

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