Anders in Tomorrowland

Charlie Jane Anders digs a deeper hole today, in a further shallow io9 rant peice “No, Tomorrowland Isn’t Really An Optimistic Movie”. Once again the movie is laughably mis-interpreted as “deeply misanthropic”, “incredibly negative, in almost every way”, and Anders whines that Tomorrowland is really about nostalgia and elitism.

Wrong. Tomorrowland is partly about letting go of nostalgia for the past, and is ultimately about the mysterious creative nature of inspiration. Bird has been clear, in interviews, that each generation of dreamers gets the vision of the future city that fits their era, only a little ahead. They look ahead, not back. This is evident in the prequel, when those who get the comic-book and special glasses at the 1939 World SF Convention see a 1950s city. In the movie, Casey gets the 1964 version of the vision which imagined the 1980s version of the city. The new dreamers of the 2010s presumably get the vision of the flowing organic eco-city of the 2040s, that can be seen most especially in some of the movie’s pre-production concept art. What seems to the contemporary audience a little ‘retro’ in Casey’s vision of the city is just a function of the plot and the history of the story-world it operates in. That’s another example of the need for a serious critic to see Tomorrowland as a transmedia work, in order to really understand it. Tomorrowland can only be properly understood on a critical and thematic level if it is approached as a transmedia work — two novels, comic, website, movie, ARG, deleted scenes (some already on YouTube, such as the Pixar Plus Ultra back-story).

The movie’s ever-shifting conception of the ‘future city’ is visually echoed in the changing art styles and slightly changing cities that can be seen in the credits at the end of the movie. Subliminally, this sub-theme also echoes the ever-changing creative destruction and re-invention of theme-park attractions in general (the movie is, of course, partly based on such).

All of the above also reflects a key plot point — for those who know the back-story from the prequel novel — that the city itself was born from a 1930s pulp artist’s sketch which was saved and cherished by a reformed Nazi android, who actually built the imagined dream city. The never-opened-to-the-public Tomorrowland ‘city’ is thus a metaphor for the human imagination on the stage-set of the possible, for our ability to rationally imagine the future and inspire people through creative visions of what is possible. Visions plural, because if the future becomes a Nix-only one-man vision then it inevitably shrivels and dies. What Plus Ultra was fumbling toward through its false-starts in 1939 and 1964 is that the future should be an open work, one that’s always on the horizon if everyone of any talent is helping to make it, a place that we see and try to get to — but which is always inevitably in the process of becoming another vision-city in a further future.

So Tomorrowland is not at all a movie telling us to embrace sentimental nostalgia for yester-year — in fact there are several plot points which counter that sentiment, not least the scene with the ‘evil hippies’ nostalgia-store owners. I could go on, on that point, but I think the point is made.