Tomorrowland is a fun movie. I enjoyed it, it brought up emotions like the Pixar movies do, there is a whole lot going on, and I’d like to see it again, which is the sign of a great movie.
There were many times in the movie that got me thinking about the story points and character motivations, and not all of them favorable to the movie.
The story is mostly about how inventors, designers, and entrepreneurship changed since the 1960’s. The 1964 Worlds Fair opened when I was 3 years old. It represented the best of our optimism in capitalism as a result of the 1950’s post World War II economic boom. Walt Disney said optimistically at the time, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
I went to the Fair a few times in the late 1960s when the city was trying to figure out what to do with it. They had bigger things to worry about. I grew up in Harlem, New York in the 60’s and 70’s, and the city was falling apart around us, and bigotry and racism were out in the open, and big difficult community changes were underway. Our apartment was at the top of a 21 story tall brick building and we were happy to retreat there if the outside environment got too hostile. I had to learn to manage my fear as a child, because if you weren’t always thinking about everyone around you, you could and did get hurt physically and emotionally. This was my world when I was 6 and I was in kindergarten.
Tomorrowland well portrayed the feeling of going back to Flushing Meadow park after the Fair to realize this is where it once was. Kind of like remembering a grandparent who is long passed. In the 1970’s it was a reminder to millions of New Yorkers of how low the city had fallen.
Tomorrowland’s main characters are a boy inventor – at 12 he invents a working jet pack – and a young girl animatronic android – she is on a mission to invite up-and-coming inventors to the move to Tomorrowland city. Eventually the boy inventor falls in love with the android, who cannot love him in return. He later invents a machine that shows people a dismal dystopian future. His unrequited love and the depressing machine help him to become a skeptic. And there is no room for skeptics in Tomorrowland, so he is evicted from the city.
Any man who was in love with a woman incapable of loving him back – for whatever reason – is going to be touched by the story line. And that’s what stands out to me about Pixar movies. Yet, this isn’t Pixar, it’s Disney, and the director Brad Bird hasn’t transitioned that well. This Disney movie has a bunch of different story lines with characters and emotions going on. I wasn’t sure how to relate to all of them, so the movie seems to speed-up and then slow-down in the story telling for me as I relate to one character and not to others. There’s no overriding theme that all the characters help with – like Nemo’s Father overcoming his overprotective ways, or Incredibles’s celebration of what makes each of us special, or the Matrix movie which tells us there is no spoon.
George Cloney’s acting in this movie seems to get in touch with a teen age boy – but it’s like his character learned nothing else and he winds up being the angry old man yelling “Get off of my lawn.” The counter to his anger is a teenage girl who is tech savvy and uses drones and tablet computers to try to keep NASA’s Cape Canaveral from disassembling a rocket launchpad. The teenager’s motivation is to keep her father – an unemployed launchpad engineer – happy and employed.
The teenage girl’s motivation seems muddled. The film shows the launchpad engineer father happy in his home garage making things – like he just returned from a Maker Faire event – and he is accepting of change. Her motivation seems to be denial. I could see her petitioning the Disney company to keep the Carousel of Progress going even though its day is well past and its message no longer applies to anyone living.
I related her character to the Anonymous group’s attempt to counter extreme national and capitalist attempts to control us. She has access to technology but has no direction in life to use it. There is no greater purpose in her life and she’s growing up hopeful and frustrated. This reminds me of every young adult I met in Saudi Arabia a few years ago – surrounded by money and gadgets and no way to access them and no future.
The love story between the inventor, now an aging older man (George Clooney), and the ever pre-pubescent android girl led me to some discomfort. She dies in the inventors arms as a 12 year old girl and he is a 50 year old man still in love with her. It felt kind of creepy. Androids that die in this movie explode. And he needs to destroy a malfunctioning huge machine. So he drops her dead body from his arms and her explosion destroys the machine. Kind of weird imagery and themes throughout.
It would have been better for androids to be able to love and she tells the inventor she just isn’t in love with him. Then later the teenage girl would teach him how to move on and find another person to love.
Tomorrowland uses Steampunk, but isn’t Steampunk. It proposes the universal heros of Steampunk – Tesla, Edison, Eiffel, and Verne – are the inventors of the Tomorrowland city. Steampunk stories are about people who face adversity and have grace while solving problems, using wit, intelligence, and technology, and for women it shows how to break through glass ceilings. Tomorrowland has 2 female parts: the teenage girl uses her wit and tech to sabotage dismantling a NASA launch pad, and a tween girl who ignores her boss’s cease-and-desist orders for the greater good to find more inventors to help build Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland uses the Maker Movement, but isn’t the Maker Movement. I am a Maker and part of the Maker Movement. Making is more than do-it-yourself, it’s about pursuing the American dream of utility, thrift, invention and entrepreneurship while minimizing capital needs and waste. And mostly it is about sharing your invention in a way that empowers others to improve their lives to make their own inventions. The California Bay Area Maker Faire is where 3D printing, Arduino, Internet of Things (IoT), hardware open source, and Burning Man “hippy” style artistic tech/fabric/interactive expression got started. I’m proud to be part of it. Tomorrowland shouldn’t be like Elysium, a space station for the 1% floating over our heads, it’s something that everyone should be able to plug into, contribute, and benefit from where they live and make things.
Disney’s mission for Epcot was to be a blueprint for how any place can be turned into a community of tomorrow – not a place you were invited to go to. The girl android gives pins to people as an invitation to go to the Tomorrowland city. I wished the pins were instead a yes/no request for Tomorrowland’s skills, resources, and people to come to the person invited. That’s the spirit behind ABC’s old Extreme Makeover, Home Edition TV show.
Disney’s vision was a community for all of us. The field of people at the end of Tomorrowland does not include any of today’s working class. The pro-unionist in me wants to see someone who clean’s the bathrooms at McDonald’s in that field too. Don’t they contribute to our civilization as much as everyone else?
That’s why the Matrix movies made such an impact on me. The Wachowskis got the story of how the Internet and Web was created so in line with what I saw in my real life career: it took a bunch of engineers working themselves into a crazy stupor (and some of them committing suicide from the intensity) and always doing so alone, only meeting their fellow engineers virtually in emails and forum postings, yet depending on their fellow engineers for everyday cooperation, understanding, and support. All that loneliness leads to dark thoughts and paranoia and fear of control. Tomorrowland and the Matrix deal with the same themes.
I was hoping Tomorrowland would be a beacon for everyone to take in the ideals of the Maker Movement, Steampunk, and the Progressives and lay-out a way for us to all benefit and get there. Maybe that’s just my thing.
After watching Tomorrowland I want to visit City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, where some of the movie scenes were filmed.
There is so much going on in this movie that I want to go back and see it again, and again. And that’s a good sign of a great movie.