[You think] they’re saving the seat on the rocket ship just for you? Youve been manipulated to feel like youre part of something - like you’re special. But you’re not.
- Frank Walker, Tomorrowland
I watched Tomorrowland with my family this weekend. I’ve been a big fan of Brad Bird’s work since The Iron Giant and then again with The Incredibles. I’m also a huge fan of the Disney Theme Parks (especially EPCOT) having cited them as the main reason I’ve gone into interaction design and user experience. When I heard that he was directing a movie based on an area of the Magic Kingdom, I was terrified that this would be another awful piece of Disney Shovelware like Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion. The trailer was intriguing and who wouldn’t want to see a movie with jetpacks and wheat.
The movie opens up in the 1964 World’s Fair and I was immediately enthralled. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more cynical, especially about the future. When I was a kid, I looked so forward to the future and all the promise that places like the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland and EPCOT hinted at. I’m not even talking about flying cars…I’m talking about all the things that we a humans could do once we were all connected. Video phones would let us practice foreign language with others across the world. Wrist telephones would free us from the walls traditional phones were bolted to. Bubble cars with gull wing doors, monorails, and glass elevators would move us around vast cities efficiently. There was to be a colony on the moon and underwater. It was all I could do to keep informed on the future.
But the future got here and what do we do with it? Video phones are on our computers and may keep us connected with loved ones far away but haven’t changed anything culturally. Mobile phones are used more to keep us separated from people then connected with texting and games. We have tiny, efficient cars that are plastic versions of the same ones we drove 50 years ago. (Don’t even ask me about monorails). We canceled manned-flights to space and forget about the moon or the ocean. The future is really just the same thing with small changes.
The 1964 World’s Fair was one of the last times that Americans were really excited about the future. From what I’ve seen and read, it was an amazing time filled with hope and promise. I’ve been to the fairgrounds in Queens and, in a fitting way, was permanently scarred by the run down, dilapidated visions of the future. It’s very disheartening to see murals about the promise of tomorrow literally crumbling away due to acid rain and neglect. It was a living analogy of how I began to feel about the future.
Like the X-Files Mulder, I want to believe…believe that we can still make a shiny future that people will truly benefit from. That’s why I liked the movie Tomorrowland… it really makes you want to believe that a positive world is possible. In a way, the movie is an antidote to Hunger Games, Terminator, and all the other dystopian science fiction that exists. It hints that we can make the future a better place.
Is the future full of white buildings with jet packs? Probably not…so much of the future looks like today with something we can’t imagine people ever lived with out. In Baltimore City the future just needs good transportation to jobs and access to healthy foods to make positive changes here. The future is whatever we make of it and Tomorrowland offered this cynical person hope. I’m going to go listen to my EPCOT soundtrack again.
Thanks to In Defense of Tomorrowland for an awesome article and the above pull quote.