Culture

The Future in Tomorrowland Is Bright, Optimistic, and Fun -- Just Like Walt Disney Envisioned It!

This post contains some minor spoilers. If you don’t want to know some of what happens in Tomorrowland, go — right now — and see the movie first. We’ll be right here waiting when you get back.

Tomorrowland was one of the three movies I was looking forward to this year. (The others? SPECTRE and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.) Tomorrowland presents an exhilarating vision of what could be that matches what I call the optimistic futurism of the studio’s founder, Walt Disney, in the form of an adventure tale in which Frank Walter (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) rush to save the world by ridding the title city (which I can best describe as Walt’s utopian city in another dimension) of its negative influence. As I walked out of the theater at the end of the film with my friend, I turned to her and said, “I wonder what people who aren’t familiar with Walt Disney’s futurism will think of it?”

We didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer. Rotten Tomatoes has measured critical reaction to the film at 50% — not exactly a ringing endorsement from the non-Disney set, and so far the movie hasn’t lived up to box office expectations either. Breitbart and The Daily Beast have aimed their sharpest daggers at Tomorrowland, managing to prove at the same time that they don’t know what the movie is really about:

But perhaps the most surprising criticism of the film comes from liberal outlet the Daily Beast. In a piece titled “George Clooney’s Global Warming Shaming,” the outlet’s Kevin Fallon knocks Clooney for “shaming us for causing the end of the world.”

“He’s the one who, like all of us, is educated on the environmental issues and human behaviors that are leading to the destruction of the Earth and the end of civilization,” Fallon writes. “He, like all of us, knows that we hold the power to fix these things, should we choose to do so. And he, like all of us, is resigned to not doing anything about it.”

“That is, until the right person and argument – or futuristic utopia based on a region in a Disney theme park – comes along to convince us to get motivated.”

Here’s the thing: the movie isn’t really about global warming. Environmental disasters are just part of what could contribute to the end of the world according to Tomorrowland, and the only character who specifically mentions global warming is the villain, Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). In fact, the screenplay indicts those who promulgate a vision of negativity and dystopian doom-and-gloom on the world. Breitbart‘s Daniel Nussbaum and The Daily Beast‘s Fallon have revealed their ignorance in hanging their criticism of the movie on the issue of environmentalism alone.

Instead, Tomorrowland does a decent job in articulating Walt Disney’s vision for the future — one in which the best and the brightest dreamers, thinkers, and doers work together to innovate and generate hope and excitement for the future. The film’s conflict stems from the fact that Tomorrowland has lost that sense of hope and has fallen under the cynicism and gloom of Governor Nix.

I’ve written quite a bit over the past couple of years about Walt Disney’s optimistic futurism. Walt truly believed that if scientists, artists, corporations and people of faith worked together to develop positive solutions to the world’s problems, the future would always contain hope and excitement. The keys, to Walt, were technology and free enterprise.

Walt expressed his futuristic vision best in the EPCOT Film, the promotional short he made a mere two months before his death that explained his original ideas for the Florida Project, which of course would become Walt Disney World.

But the most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project—in fact, the heart of everything well be doing in Disney World—will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it EPCOT, spelled E-P-C-O-T: Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Here it is in larger scale.

EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.

[…]

We don’t presume to know all the answers. In fact, we’re counting on the cooperation of American industry to provide their very best thinking during the planning and the creation of our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And most important of all, when EPCOT has become a reality and we find the need for technologies that don’t even exist today, it’s our hope that EPCOT will stimulate American industry to develop new solutions that will meet the needs of people expressed right here in this experimental community.

Some of these exciting ideas come to play in Tomorrowland. Athena (Raffey Cassidy), the Audio Animatronic recruiter who sets both Frank and Casey’s journeys to Tomorrowland into motion, encourages Casey to imagine a limitless future: “Do you ever wonder what would happen if all the great thinkers came together to actually change the world for the better and the results was, well, miracles?” Athena also tells Casey that “dreamers need to stick together,” a sentiment I can image Walt getting behind.

According to Tomorrowland, the future — when it’s working right — is bright, optimistic, and fun! The vision for the utopia of Tomorrowland fits squarely with Walt Disney’s masterful vision — maybe not 100%, but awfully close. If you want to know more about Walt’s futurism before you see Tomorrowland, check out the Disney section of this compendium of some of my writing, and visit The Original EPCOT for a detailed look at Walt’s vision for the Florida Project. Knowing a little more about Walt Disney’s ideas will make Tomorrowland make much more sense.