Disney previewed a handful of projects at the 2013 D23 expo, with a lineup that includes upcoming franchise sequels being distributed by the Mouse House (Thor: The Dark World, Muppets Most Wanted) and the studio's latest installments in its series of live-action fairy tale movie re-imaginings (Maleficent, Cinderella) - in addition to Saving Mr. Banks, a biographical film that partly explores the man behind the legend that is Walt Disney. However, Star Wars: Episode VII was not the impending Disney sci-fi project that left a strong impression - or even made any appearance at all - during the expo.
That honor instead went to Tomorrowland, which is a film inspired by the real-life exploits of Mr. Disney - without the realism found in Saving Mr. Banks - as is being co-written and produced by Damon Lindelof (World War Z), with co-scripting and directing duties handled by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol). Bird and Lindelof were in attendance at the D23 event; there, the duo continued to tease their mysterious new collaboration, by unveiling an official logo and more real-world material than inspired the fantastical project in the first place.
Bird and Lindelof started to get people buzzing about Tomorrowland - back when the project was still referred to as 1952 - as they used their Twitter accounts to unveil photos of a mysterious suitcase containing real-life historical memorabilia. Lindelof has since then clarified that the box was taken from the Disney studio archives, referring to its previous storage location as being "like that Ark of the Covenant room [in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark']" - one of many similar rooms that are located in Burbank, where material from the studio's past is kept and preserved. The suitcase was brought to the D23 event, so as to allow those in attendance to get a better up-close look at its contents.
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Among the items contained within said box was a record disc, which was dated back to November 1963. Disney's team of specialists were able to extract information - in the form of animated footage believed to be over 50 years old - from said disc, which they then presented in a cleaned-up form at D23.
/Film has posted a description of the footage, which the site describes as having been shown in modern high-quality (despite being very choppy in structure) and having a very distinct retro (read: 1960s) feel:
It starts with humanity at the dawn of history, smashing together two rocks to make a fire and creative cave drawings, before jumping forward to ancient Greece and other cities. ”There is no such thing as fate,” proclaims a voice that resembles Orson Welles’.
Fast-forward to the World’s Fair in Paris in . Images of Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel flit by, and they appear to be working together on a big, secret project. We also see pictures of various technological advancements including radios, cars, battleships, tanks, planes, electricity, the nuclear bomb, and the burning streets that followed the bomb. The implication is that technology is a double-edged sword — it has great potential for danger, but it also represents optimism for the future.
Empire interviewed Bird and Lindelof about Tomorrowland at D23, where the latter also teased the tone of the film:
“When we first started talking about it, the movie we were referencing was Close Encounters, so people incorrectly deduced that it was about some sort of alien contact, which we've ruled out. But that movie was about discovery. It was about that level of excitement of, 'There's something out there, and it inspires me and I can't quite explain why it inspires me, but I need to know more about it. I need to get to it.' That became the driving, fundamental feel behind it. We're not trying to make a Spielberg movie, this is very much a Brad Bird movie, but I feel like that's the vibe.”
The Tomorrowland cast includes George Clooney as the male lead, Hugh Laurie as the antagonist, and actresses Raffey Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman), Judy Greer (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Britt Robertson (Under the Dome) in either pivotal central or supporting roles. It's not yet clear just how all the characters and story pieces will fit together in the final movie product - much less which (if any) of the plot tidbits and information that has been released (well, okay, leaked) ahead of production getting underway is accurate... and which ones serve the purpose of misdirection.
Having said that, the mystery buildup for Tomorrowland is certainly reminiscent of another project co-written and backed by Lindelof: Prometheus, which is the Alien spinoff/prequel that likewise had a fair number of false plot details "leaked" ahead of production. It'll be interesting to see how the general reception to the final movie reveal compares between the two projects - all the more so because Bird is a filmmaker at the top of his game right now. (Translation: Tomorrowland has a decent shot of turning out better than the love/hate situation with Prometheus.)
What do you think about Tomorrowland so far? Are you intrigued by the rich history and imaginative real-world material behind the project - or are you worried that all this great inspirational content will end up being fumbled during the filmmaking process?
Tomorrowland opens in U.S. theaters on December 12th, 2014.