I saw Tomorrowland. I didn’t like it. It was full of fascism, creepy man-girl love, and conspiracy theories mixed in with pop science. But that wasn’t why I didn’t like it. It conflated intelligence with totalitarianism and inflated its business model of purveying sentiment and thrills for your money to something bigger, ending up preachy and self congratulatory like a religion. But that wasn’t why I didn’t like it. It had a spunky, adorkable teenage girl paired with a spunky, robotic, tweener girl-Terminator (Terminatrix) rocking a squeaky posh Brit accent like she was the Poopourri girl’s sister. But that’s not why I hated it. It had Clooney trying to hold together this turducken of a film with his pleasant face, but alas! The final moment of one worldness had an inspiring message but was botched by the mashup of the end of Mad Men Coca Cola commercial with a United Colors of Bennetton riff but that’s not the reason why. I hated the movie because it sold a false promise, a lie.
I grew up in Florida in the late seventies and early eighties, which meant frequent trips to Disney during its late heyday. To visit Disney at that time was analogous to going to Vegas during the Rat Pack era, or a jaunt to the Forum during Aurelian Rome. Disney was the economic heart of Florida and at that time had the power to move heaven and earth to reshape swampland and orange fields into a year long festival of America’s middle class and everyone else in the world who aspired to be like a white middle class American. The rides and flow of the park was focused on not just selling Disney but a world view that was at the heart of Walt Disney’s dream of one day creating an ideal society of Alphas, to borrow from A Brave New World, to recast the world in order, cleanliness, and happiness. The parking was like a North Korean mass game, and the monorail, which was the only commuter rail in Florida, was a testimony to a triumph of mouse-based will. There was a religion-like orthodoxy to this vision of Disney’s, and the first generation of Disney leadership immediately started to veer into something that all religions understand –you need money to generate power to generate money to generate power and so on.
Tomorrowland, which was one of the original sections of the park, was anchored by Space Mountain which promised a ride to space, was suppose to be a year round world’s fair of science and technology. I think the real heart of Tomorrowland was the Carousel of Progress which presented progress, particularly American progress. You road a circular trolley that brought you to American living rooms through time, narrated by audioanimatronics, ending up in an anodyne future of silvery clothing. EPCOT, brought together by the second generation of Disneymen, was originally suppose to be a utopian planned community of the best and brightest of the world living in self contained harmony, to save the world or perhaps survive it. Like most religions, the subsequent generations of followers lose the message and EPCOT became a glorified World’s Fair, with some pavilions being epic like China’s, or utterly kitsch like Canada’s which I suspect was just their way of going through the motion. Given equal status to nations were corporations which had the bigger and better rides and spectacles. Entertainment yes, future earth colony, no.
All of these spectacles started to fade and rot in the heat and humidity of central Florida. It is a fact that in that part of the world, if you don’t rebuild every decade or so, you end up with a mold filled cardboard box. The rest of Orlando, the cheaper hotels and strip malls, lie emptied like the set of a zombie apocalypse show, but Disney rebuilds, because it has to. Unfortunately, the target audience, the cheerful Eisenhower to Reagan to Clinton era American middle class, is gone. They hint at this in the movie with the scenes of the demolition of the space shuttle launch pad, which is fought by the erstwhile teenaged heroine of the movie committing domestic terrorism on a federal facility – Because that’s what smart teenagers do in the US. Take the situation into their own hands. It gets worse.
Turns out, there is a secret EPCOT that was almost built but stopped when they realized that humanity was headed for a terminal spiral, a doomsday. This secret society of supergeniuses turn not to preserving the world, but to preserving their secret safehouse for armageddon, presumably in an alternate universe. They used robot recruiters, in the case of Clooney’s character, the coquettish Athena, to find genius children to join their cause, leaving their families for this interdimensional Sea Org. Breaking with the faith results in death, and they have audioanimatronic robot enforcers that kill witnesses and abduct children. Human trafficking? Scientology meme? Justice League/Avengers/X-Men with Hannah Montana?
Clooney’s character is overcome by the failings of his time machine built when he was one of these runaway child geniuses, which shows the end of the world in HD. He also is brokenhearted because his love interest, the child robot Athena, was a robot. Clooney works very hard to convey the right tone at being helplessly in love with a girl-robot –something the French would shrug at because it was shown to be pure innocent love, something the Japanese would manufacture sex robots around, and something America would hyperventilate about if they saw the movie. I personally understand the portrayal of pure innocent love lost, but in our conflicted, puritanical, hypocritical American society, this is problematic and you wonder who greenlit this.
The final message of the movie, that hope will save the world, along with science and smart people, is nice, but mixed in with it is the same awful premise of the start of the movie. That is the promise of a beautiful future shown in holographic reality, but really a lie. The movie asks people to have faith and start clapping to save the world, but it’s really asking you to save Disney World.
But in the end, I hated the movie because it was boring, and it scared thinking children of all ages.