What makes a film great? Is it the money it makes at the box office, the number of critics that heap praises on it, or how much the average movie goer loves it? I don’t know. I used to have hard and fast opinions on this topic. As I have gotten older, I have realized so much of it all is subjective. I realize that may sound a bit un-profound, but when people talk about films in absolute terms, so often they confuse what is their opinion for fact. People say, for example, “That film is great” or “That movie is horrible”, and follow it up with their opinion. We have all had someone belittle a film we love or heard someone say how much they love another film and thought to ourselves, “They must be kidding.”
This brings me to Tomorrowland, the 2015 film directed by Pixar alum Brad Bird. A film I whole heartedly and unabashedly love. To say I think it is underrated would be an understatement. It may have some problems, but most films do. I did not say it was perfect. I said I love it. I think in a different year, or even on a different release weekend, it could have been a real success. Maybe even becoming the kind of tentpole franchise film Disney was hoping for. It could have been a Pirates of the Caribbean style reimagining that would have led to whole new direction in the parks as well. But why? Why would I think this? I could cite the creation of alternate history that blends Disney lore with science fiction, the classical elements of great Heroes’ Journey a la Joseph Campbell, its great message, fantastic production design that works in steampunk and 1960’s aesthetics, its rousing score by Michael Giancchino, or what it philosophically says about our world and our future. I do believe all those reasons make it a great film, but I love it for a different reason.
I often try to create little enchanting moments for my daughter and me. Magical moments that make her believe and inspire her. I love science fiction. I adore retro-futurism, the look of what they thought the future would look like in the past. I love the section of the Magic Kingdom known as Tomorrowland; it is the first land we go to when we walk down Main Street USA. Oh yeah, and it has a jetpack (I’m sucker for a good jet pack, theRocketeer, Boba Fett, I just love ‘em). So, let’s just say I am squarely in Disney’s target demographic and I was already on board with this film from the get go. But as I said so much of film loving is personal. Early in the film’s production I heard the film described as Disney’s attempt to create a franchise like Harry Potter, but for girls, and with science rather than magic. As a father of a daughter interested in math and science, this only deepened my interest and desire for the film to come out.
The pin pictured above was featured heavily in the marketing and ads. After seeing the trailer, I gathered what I thought to be the purpose of this pin. As it happens, I was wrong about its purpose, but that is irrelevant. I thought it would be great to surprise my daughter with one of these pins.
I am about to discuss some plot elements of the film so…Spoilers.
I bought the pin on eBay weeks in advance. I hatched my plot to sneak the pin into the theater in my pocket. Near the end of the film I slipped the pin out and dropped it in the cup holder under our drink. We watched the film’s climax and end. Then it happened. There is a scene where the Frank and Casey send out a whole new wave of audio-animatronics to find the dreamers of tomorrow. A montage of scenes from around the world show artists and scientists of every age and ethnicity noticing a small pin has been deposited near them. They pick them up and they all become the fresh start for a better tomorrow. The credits rolled, the lights slowly illuminated, my daughter grabbed her cup and there it was. An actual, real-life, Tomorrowland pin was under her drink. Her face was a wash of emotions that ran from surprise, to bewilderment, to wonder, and to confusion. She picked it up and looked around surveying the various rows to see if other’s had gotten one as if it was a free promotional item. No one else had one. She asked me if I had one. I said no. She asked me if I put it there. I lied and said no again. We gathered our things and walked out to the car. I held her small hand in my large one as we walked across the parking lot. We talked about why those people in the film got the pin and what it meant for the movie. I remember her clearly looking up to me and asking if I thought she could change the world. That is why I love Tomorrowland. Not for the action, or George Clooney, not for the Disney elements and science fiction, not even for the jetpack. It was that look from my daughter, the question she asked, and my answer, a whole-hearted yes.
Sometimes the sum of the whole is greater than the parts. So regardless of the box office, the critical reception, or the opinion of the movie going public, I love Tomorrowland. I hope in years to come it finds the audience it so richly deserves. Thank you, Disney, the entire cast and crew, and Brad Bird, for possibly helping my daughter believe she could change the future and to choose optimism and hope and fight to make the world a better place, or as they say in the film, to feed the right wolf and that is the true meaning of and purpose of the film.
Until next time…
The Imagine Ears features the DIY projects, adventures, and thoughts of a father and daughter who use a shared love of all things Disney to create memories together through encouraging her interests in architecture, design, Imagineering, while exploring history and science.