Tomorrowland opens this week and for the intrigued who aren’t Disney Geeks, many questions have been asked about the mysteries of the film named after the land in the theme parks. And no, it doesn’t tell the tale of how much better it is to get a fast pass for Space Mountain than stand in line. The picture is the optimistic story of a young girl (Britt Robertson), who discovers a pin that transports her to a world of infinite possibilities, and enlists the jaded inventor (George Clooney) to find a way there and unlock their destinies. Director Brad Bird, star George Clooney and writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, shared the origin of the ideas behind the film, and the mark it strives to leave in Disney’s legacy.
Q: Damon, this film really originates from a series of discussions you had with the people at Disney. Curious as to what those discussions were, and how this film came about, and also how the television critic from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Jeff Jensen, became involved in the film?
Damon Lindelof: I was having a meeting with Sean Bailey, who is the president of production at Disney. We were talking about the Marvel movies, of which we’re both fans. He said they had a number of fantasy princess movies in the pipeline at Disney, but just sort of wondered what else a Disney movie should be. I said to him, “I don’t know what it’s about, but I would see a movie called Tomorrowland.” And that was the beginning of this whole adventure. I think that, for me, I’ve always been really interested in the future, and I kind of feel like all the movies that I’ve been exposed to over the course of the last 20-30 years have shown me a future that I don’t really want to be living in. It’s cool to watch, but teenagers trying to kill other teenagers, or robots eradicating mankind, or you know, apocalyptic wastelands, albeit populated by Charlize Theron, are all great. What about that other future, and is there a way to tell that story? And then I was really interested in the history of Disney, the Imagineers, and the theme parks, particularly as it related to the World’s Fairs, and Jeff Jensen, who wrote about LOST extensively, and had crazy theories that were more imaginative than anything we as writers were coming up with. We’re both fanboys, and we started just talking about this idea. And I was able to kind of recruit him, and we then went after Mr. Bird, who came on and joined the party.
Q: Jeff, did it blow your mind when Damon called and said he wanted you to join this project?
Jeff Jensen: Yeah. It was definitely a little crazy and humbling too. I mean, it was a lot of fun to work with someone whose storytelling you really admire, and to get in a room with them. The idea that he pitched to me was just really engaging. Yeah, we groove on the same stuff. But the whole idea of a movie that kind of riffed on and looked at the different ways that we looked at the future then and now, to research the history of futurism and science fiction, and let that inform a story – that was super-fun. And to really kind of build out the story. But also, I thought I knew a lot about how movies are made and TV shows are made. This was a real learning experience in how much I didn’t know.
Q: Brad, what was most important for you to add to the whole project, once you came on board?
Brad Bird: Oh, I don’t know. I was just happy to be asked to join, you know? I was inspired by the idea and I was an admirer of Damon’s work. And he did a little uncredited work at the very end of Mission. It was a very tight series of things and you had to be very surgical. And Damon was really smart. So I asked what he was doing next during that time, and he mentioned this idea. I was immediately hooked.
Q: George, at the heart of this movie is a really big idea, which I think is powerful. You’ve made a lot of bold films in your career, particularly the more political ones. But I think this one is right up there, as far as being quite bold. Do you see it that way?
George Clooney: Putting me in a summer movie is a very bold thought. First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book, to really invest in a summer film of this sort of ilk. The fun part of it to me, was when you read the screenplay. Although I have to say, just so we’re clear, when Damon and Brad showed up at my house, they said, “We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you.” And then I opened up the description of the character, and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, “Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?”
Jeff Jensen: It said genius, by the way. It said genius.
George Clooney: It said former genius, boy genius, who has gotten bitter in his old age. I just loved the idea of, you know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there. And it’s not fun. It can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way. And what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference. And I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better. And I liked it. I thought it was great.
Q: George, this is the summer movie with a serious subtext, and you get to be the gruff, grumpy cynic. Growing up in the Cold War, that’s who we are. And yet at the same time, you’re searching for hope, and I’m curious if that arc reflects the struggle that you personally have, and whether you relate to that in this particular context of this movie.
George Clooney: Listen, I actually grew up during the Cold War period. And I always found that although we always thought that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust at some point, everybody was pretty hopeful. There were an awful lot of things going on that you felt you could change. I grew up in an era where the voice, the power of the one, really did feel as if it mattered. You know, we had the riots that are reminiscent of the things we are looking at today, we had the Civil Rights Movement, and we had Vietnam. And we had the Women’s Rights Movements and all those things that you felt you could actually have some part of changing. And actually, if you look at the things that changed in the 1960s and early 1970s, individual voices did make a huge difference. It wasn’t governments doing it, necessarily. I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind. I always felt like it was going to work out in the end. And I still feel that way. And so what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that, you know, young people don’t wake up, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. I feel as if the world will get better. And I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it. And I really related to the film because I thought, you know, Brad and Damon want to tell a story that’s entertainment, because first and foremost, it has to be entertainment. But it is hopeful, and I’ve always felt that way myself.
Q: Although he’s never directly referenced in the film, it’s obvious that Walt Disney had a great deal of influence on this, the look of the film, and some of the themes, because he was a great futurist. So can you talk about the influence of him, and you know, if maybe he was a member of Plus Ultra, anything that you can speak to as far as Walt Disney directly?
Damon Lindelof: I’ll say that I think Brad can probably speak most articulately about the kind of person Walt was, and what an inspirational figure he was, in terms of a lot of the things that everybody up here is talking about. The way that you look at the future and using imagination as a catalyst, pushing against a machinery that says, “That’s naïve, or corny, or idealistic,” and saying, “No, it’s not.” But specific to the question you asked for, the movie, there is a much longer version of this movie, not necessarily a better one, that is much more explicit about Walt’s involvement. But the idea is that it was very explicit about the idea that he was a member of Plus Ultra, and that Disneyland, particularly Tomorrowland and Disneyland, were covers for the actual Tomorrowland. Our feeling was that aside from trying to find that line in any movie when it gets bogged down by exposition and no longer becomes enjoyable to watch, the feeling was that by directly referencing Disney and Disneyland in a movie that is a Disney movie, it just suddenly felt like, “Oh, are we trying to sell tickets to go to the theme park?” When the theme park should be selling tickets to go and see Tomorrowland.
Jeff Jensen: A lot of Disney really inspired and informed the movie, especially, I think, Epcot. The whole idea and original idea behind Epcot, and how that evolved as a sort of laboratory for the future. That was a huge inspiration for the story.
Damon Lindelof: Some of the very last things that Walt Disney filmed were about this experimental prototype community of tomorrow. But one of the last things he shot, he was talking about Florida and he called it “our Florida Project.” And he was talking about the park and he said, “Yeah, there will be an amusement park kind of like Disneyland, but the whole reason to do it, the main attraction, is this!” And he pointed to the city and said, “It’s going to be an actual place that you can try ideas and we’ll take corporations and we’ll collaborate with them on new ideas, and sell the ideas to the world, and try them out.” And his face lit up when he talked about it. Which part of it do you think wasn’t done? It’s that part. And it’s understandable, because you needed somebody like Disney as a catalyst to make it happen. But on his deathbed, he was looking up at the ceiling and pointing out how the city would be laid out. And the fact that he was, to his last moments, dreaming about this future and making crazy ideas happen, and be real, and accelerate the pace of that, was very moving to me. And if the movie caught even a little bit of that, I think we will have succeeded.
Tomorrowlandopens Friday, May 22nd!
Tomorrowland Movie CLIP ‘Athena’ (2015) – George Clooney, Britt Robertson HD