Disney has finally revealed a little something about "Tomorrowland," their big budget, beyond top-secret sci-fi project being directed by Brad Bird (from a script by Bird and "Prometheus" lightning rod Damon Lindelof) and starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. While announcing the official start of production (up in Vancouver), the studio hinted at the film’s plot, while keeping most of the movie’s specifics still in some kind of lead-lined vault, accessible only by key members of the production and the guy who plays Gaston in the Magic Kingdom. The officially sanctioned synopsis also made us think back to the movie’s big presence at this year’s D23 Expo, where Lindelof and Bird were on hand to cryptically tease what the movie might have in store for us.
First off, the synopsis: "Bound by a shared destiny, a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor jaded by disillusionment embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory as Tomorrowland.” What we can assume is that Clooney will play the former boy genius, who was ousted from the alternate universe called Tomorrowland, and has to return to the realm he helped create. Britt Robertson, from this summer’s terrific, Steven Spielberg-produced limited series "Under the Dome," plays the aforementioned teen, with a number of roles, including characters played by Laurie (supposedly the villain) and little kid actors Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson, being left unspecified.
At D23, on the same stage that had just recently been host to starry appearance by Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman, Lindelof and Bird brought out a "dusty old box." The box in question is one that the duo found in The Morgue, a section of the Disney Archives where abandoned or disused projects are stored. The box was marked, simply, "1952," and it was at one point used to store materials related to live action Disney romp "That Darn Cat!"
In a perfectly choreographed routine, Bird and Lindelof went through the contents of the box—first showing off a forged photo of Walt Disney and Amelia Earhart, supposedly taken years after her disappearance. "Why was this photographed faked?" Lindelof wondered. "Why was it put in here?" Bird inquired immediately after. Other contents the duo exhibited for the crowd: the blueprints for the it’s a small world pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair, which includes the diagrams for a building underneath the iconic attraction. "It’s possible Imagineering had another thing going on underneath…" Lindelof teased. There was the recurrent motif of a mysterious symbol that appeared on most of the so-called artifacts from within the box, and a vague sense of menace.
Then they showed some actually footage of something related to "Tomorrowland." Housed within the box was a weird, holographic disc, like something in between a laserdisc and an old vinyl record. "What’s cool is that it looks like it was produced in the early sixties," Bird explained. "And it’s animation. We’re working to get it up to the quality level for you guys to see." Then they rolled the animation.
The sequence was in black-and-white and herky jerky, purposefully made to look old and deteriorated (it was clearly new animation and it was gorgeous). The animation was meant to exhibit the ultimate dream of Walt’s: a futuristic, crime-and-pollution-free environment where optimism and enlightenment were of chief importance. This is Tomorrowland. From the animation, you got the sense that it was some kind of alternate reality, and that maybe the structure underneath the World’s Fair exhibit was a portal into that dimension.
From what we understand of the plot, Clooney was one of the scientists who worked on the project, only to be cast out by an evil scientist played by Laurie, who has corrupted Tomorrowland and turned it into something far darker than it was originally intended for. Clooney’s character has to team up with the teenage whiz kid and a small robot girl (Cassidy) to return to Tomorrowland and overthrow Laurie.
Following the presentation in the Disney Features panel, you could then walk into the show floor, where a large cloth had been draped around an as-yet-unrevealed booth, which turned out to be all about "Tomorrowland." When you walked up, you were given an iPad and headphones and were ushered through a kind of fake, museum-like set up with the supposed contents of the box protected behind clear glass. As you walked up to each object, audio would play through the headphones, explaining the object’s meaning to arcane Disney history (it was left up to you to infer what they meant, exactly). It was an enchanting display and put you in the treasure-hunting "Tomorrowland" mood, even if it was all bunk.
If the new plot synopsis hadn’t specified Clooney’s character, we were going to throw our hat in with an original line of thinking related to the project: that Clooney would actually be playing a version of Walt Disney. (Amazingly, Tom Hanks will be the first actor to portray Walt in this year’s "Saving Mr. Banks.") Things that still haven’t been explained: when this story is taking place and if what we’ve bled from the plot synopsis and the D23 presentation is even correct at all. Other things that were explained today: who is shooting the movie ("TRON Legacy" and "Life of Pi" cinematographer Claudio Miranda) and who is editing it (the legendary Walter Murch, whose sole directorial credit "Return to Oz" was for Disney).
For those who are really into puzzles, there has been an augmented reality game that has been playing out in and around Disneyland recently called "The Optimist." But it’s unclear what actual details of the movie were actually collected from "winning" the game (if any), despite a shared database of information from participants.
We should know more (hopefully) as we near the movie’s December 12th, 2014 release date.