BnB Shame #7: Tomorrowland

Ever thought about putting your house up for and AirBnB? If so, did you ever give a thought to the judgment potential renters might give you from your DVD collection? You don’t know how it got there. Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a 3 for $5 sale at Wal-Mart. Or, perhaps worst of all, maybe you actually like it. Welcome to “BnB Shame”.

Exhibit A:

Tomorrowland

Why make it:

Remember that one movie that was based on a Disney ride? People were thinking is mad… mad for even proposing such a creatively bankrupt concept. Shoot, I think even Michael Eisner thought this was a stupid idea. But look who’s laughing now that Pirates of the Caribbean made all the money in the world and currently has had five installments, grossing $600M to $1B worldwide.

Who knew that the Walt Disney Company was sitting on such valuable IP… and it was right in its own backyard and cultivated by Imagineers! So much potential in the Haunted Mans-…. Uh. I mean Country Bear Jamb-… oh.

I mean… Tomorrowland! Think of the possibilities! It’s not just a single ride: it’s an entire Disney sublocation! We’ll get George Clooney to star. And Brad Bird to direct! The man has had a string of critically acclaimed successes: The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. He even managed to prove himself in live action, with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol getting people interested in Ethan Hunt all over again.

What can possibLIE go wrong?

The Disney Mystery Box:

The movie is about a teen wunderkind named Casey, played by non-teen Britt Robertson.  We know she’s a teen because she’s wearing an oversized ballcap.  She comes across a Tomorrowland pin, planted there by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a little girl who is… well, I have a whole section on Athena.  We’ll talk about that later.  When Casey touches the pin, she sees… freaking Dubai!  (None of the filming locations identify Dubai, but my wife thought it all looked super familiar.  Look at that header image.  Tell me that doesn’t look like the Burj Khalifa.)  Casey sets out to try to figure out what this weird mystery all means.  By the way… did I mention that this movie was co-written by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof?

After being chased by robots, Casey gets saved by Athena.  The two of them travel to meet Frank Walker, a grumpy recluse played by George Clooney who has turned his whole house into the Batcave.  The vision she saw was a place called Tomorrowland, which is accessible by taking a teleporter to the Eiffel Tower, launching a rocket located on the pinnacle, turning around the rocket when it’s in space, then warping into another dimension.

It’s all so simple!

What kind of person thinks jetpacks are useless, anyway?:

The theme of the movie boils down to a speech given by our antagonist, Dr. House (Hugh Laurie). He sent out images of the impending apocalypse to warn humanity, but instead it made people pessimistic and they gave in to the dystopia. In other words, it’s our fault for giving up on a hope for a brighter future. (In one of the movie’s many hamfisted moments, a literal doomsday clock is turned back thanks to Casey’s unquenchable sunny optimism.)  Jenny Nicholson did a great video pointing out on how stupid this premise is.  Check it out.

I want to add something else. Bird seems to be pointing out specifically at the World’s Fair 1964 New York’s World Fair as the symbol of hope for the future. Young Frank Walker wants to display his jet pack to impress Dr. House. His dad is like, “You’re wasting your time and it’ll never work!” And I’m all, “Shouldn’t he be showing concern that his kid is strapping a live explosive on his back?”

Anyway, something struck me about a scene where Frank is getting off the bus. The crowd is mostly white. In the interest of diversity, though, there are perhaps two African Americans on the bus as well… and they’re standing behind the white people.

I have no idea whether that shot was intentional or not. But it did put into my mind exactly what this message for a bright, better tomorrow was aimed at. Let’s just say that I wasn’t totally on board with Frank taking the side of “Let’s build something cool!” versus Evil Dr. House’s far more progressive insistence of “how does it help humanity?”

Mai Waifu:

Incidentally… Frank doesn’t invent squat. The only reason his jetpack works is because it’s repaired by a giant robot that looks like it was designed by LucasFilms for The Phantom Menace. He tools around with it, and suddenly it’s ready for Frank to strap on and fly around with it. Frank basically just invented the handsome carrying case and took credit for the whole thing. Fortunately, it impresses a young girl named Athena, and hoo boy this is where things get weird.

Anime, specifically, likes to play around with the idea of an ageless robot girl that’s wise beyond her years. Athena reminds me a lot of R. Dorothy from The Big O.  Now, Raffey Cassidy does a great job playing the role. But wow is it really uncomfortable watching her interact with George Clooney (playing grown up Frank) and making sly comments like she’s an ex-girlfriend who’s trying to reignite their relationship. It really, really becomes uncomfortable where there’s a scene where she lifts up her shirt. It’s because there’s a tiny compartment that pops out of her abdomen, which itself is a scene that’s specifically designed to put me on a government watchlist.

Even odder: a moment where Athena looks at Casey and asks Frank to take care of her. It’s like that moment where the ex-wife gives her blessing to date a new girlfriend. And I’m going, “What in the living hell, Brad Bird.”

“A man chooses. A slave obeys.”:

In some respects, this is the BioShock movie, only more optimistic. The movie even begins with an elevator, surrounded by water, that takes you down to a technological wonderland. An “underwater” society based around an amusement park populated by geniuses?  Where have I seen this before?  Holy crap… was Athena a Little Sister the entire time?

Perhaps the movie’s biggest disappointment is that we don’t ever really see Tomorrowland, and we don’t know why it descended into a dystopia.  I don’t think we even see any of the civilians, outside of Dr. House and his robot assistants.

Incidentally, for those of you who insist that The Incredibles is secretly in support of Ayn Rand: Tomorrowland actually argues for a clandestine colony of supergeniuses. Tomorrowland was never unfeasible. It’s the priorities that were out of order. Its flaw was that it broadcast doom-and-gloom, when instead the powers-that-be should’ve been broadcasting hope and optimism.

It’s not exactly Ayn Rand. Tomorrowland advocates that people serve for the betterment of humanity, not self-interest. It does argue the case for exceptionalism though… just like The Incredibles.

A Brighter Tomorrow:

While Tomorrowland may be naive, it’s also welcome. Consider this: the movie was made in 2015. It’s got a doomsday clock that says that unless we do something, the world is going to end in X amount of days. Looking back from the future of 2018, it’s amusing to think that 2015 was the year the world was supposedly going to Hell. Oh, my God, people! It could be so much worse!

But, in a way, it seems to have predicted our future. We really did let pessimism rule our lives. And now… here we are, in a current state of the world that is far more depressing than where we were three years ago.

The whole idea that a better world is out there and you only need to imagine it so is still hopelessly naive. I sometimes wonder if Brad Bird had ever really seen anything invented and all the time and hard work it takes to make things happen. He sees a world full of magicians who can will great inventions into existence with a magical touch of their fingers. Honestly… I personally think it’s a damaging concept to kids, especially those who get easily frustrated when they don’t immediately get results. Freaking Casey makes things happens just because she “knows”… no years of college or advanced degrees required!

And yet… it’s still comforting that someone created a fairy tale that dreams can come true, in a scientific sense.

Potential BnB Renter’s Assessment:

“They made a movie about a Disney theme park attraction? When did this happen?”

Incidentally… I rate the stocks on Tomorrowland a buy. I seriously think that this could become a cult favorite in a few years. The number one thing that makes a cult movie is “sincerity.” Tomorrowland has sincerity coming out its ears… like THIS is the movie to finally dispel society’s obsession with the dystopian future. It’s horribly misguided, but that’s the thing that’s going to make it a cult classic.