This week, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond lands on home-entertainment formats. Given that the film is loaded with in-jokes, references and moments of visual wit (not to mention the mother of all Zurg cameos), we decided to sit down with director Brad Bird to extract as much spoilery info as we could. So read on to learn the secrets of Tomorrowland. This really is a viewing guide beyond.
CAUTION: SPOILERS ABOUND
(Chapter 1, 0:45)
"I designed this title card myself," says Brad Bird. "I love designing logos. I recently designed the logo for The Incredibles 2, which is unbelievably simple yet took me a while to arrive at. I like the atom element here, even though some people were like, 'We don't really do nuclear power anymore.' It's really about the notion of retro futurism. What we're saying is, 'The future used to be positive. So viewing the future from the past is a way to express that.'"
(Chapter 1, 0:59)
The movie begins with present-day Frank (George Clooney) talking to camera. But originally it was to start with him as a youngster in 1964. "We initially had an idea that we thought was incredibly bold," Bird explains. "We wanted to start the story with Frank as a kid, stay with him for 15 or 20 minutes, and then have the title of the movie come up. Everyone, from the studio to the actors, were excited about it. But we had two early screenings and people got confused — they didn't understand why George Clooney wasn't on-screen. We designed this new opening, but it was not what we set out to do, and to be honest it feels a bit engineered."
The World's Fair
*(Chapter 1, 3:01)
After that prologue, the action does jump back to 1964 and the New York World's Fair. "This sequence is there for two reasons," Bird says. "First, we wanted to ask the question, 'What happened to the positive vision of the future, and why did it change?' And then Damon [Lindelof] and Jeff Jensen had this notion of Plus Ultra and this group of geniuses. So we started saying, 'Well, what if these guys met at the World's Fair in the late 1800s in Paris and started this organisation based on that?' World's Fairs used to provide the function of gathering dreamers from over the Earth to compare notes. But they disappeared around the time that people started having negative visions of the future. That was very interesting to us."
It's A Small World
(Chapter 1, 8:22)
"I agree with anyone who says that Small World can be a very heckling ride," Bird says of the famous Disney attraction, in which animatronic children sing a syrupy earworm. "Carousel Of Progress would have made more sense in the movie thematically, but we wanted Frank to be on a ride. So we started imagining a boat and naturally Small World came up. It's about the planet and different ways to see things, but it also has that song which can drive you batty. When we filmed the sequence we turned the music off, but the puppets kept moving their jaws. It was strange going through that ride, just hearing the clicks!"
*(Chapter 2, 16:50)
Casey (Britt Robertson) sneaks into a decommissioned NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, using an iPhone-operated drone to scout the area. "We had trouble getting the drone to perform as well as it did," says Bird. "But we wanted to show that Casey's an inventor; she can take Radio Shack-level stuff and kluge together something that works. I have really mixed feelings about drones. They're starting to scare me actually. On YouTube, there's a video of these drones that are controlled by computer: they fan out and fly together, then converge and fly through this tiny hoop. It's so precise. Terrifying..."
(Chapter 3, 25:21)
"I would love to take credit for the pin, but I can't," admits Bird. "I had some ideas about the jetpack being shaped like a T and that influenced the pin a little bit. But Clint Schultz designed it and he did a magnificent job. It's his work. I have quite a few pins at home, but I don't hand them out."
*A Glimpse Of Tomorrow
(Chapter 4, 30:20)
Behold the wonders of Tomorrowland, or rather a simulacrum of the metropolis at its most dazzling. As Casey runs through it, we clock jetpacks, flying trains and floating swimming pools. "That was an idea I had had in a daydreamy state," says Bird of the latter. "The other ideas in the city are a mishmash of things we all wanted to see. If we'd had an infinite budget, we would have loved to have just kept going. At one point we had them able to control weather on a small scale. You could have a small rainstorm indoors, watering your plants. There were also ideas about miniaturised elephants being used as house pets. Weird stuff like that."
*(Chapter 5, 36:07)
Casey's bus passes a billboard promoting movie ToxiCosmos 3, one of several references in Tomorrowland to the fictional blockbuster. "We figured that sequels are all the rage, so we'd start with the third in the series," says Bird. "Apparently there have been two other ToxiCosmos movies that have been massive hits. Maybe at some point I'll actually make ToxiCosmos 4!"
Blast From The Past
(Chapter 5, 37:53)
The pin leads Casey to a movie-memorabilia store, Blast From The Past, where a battle royale unfolds in which Han Solo is deployed as a weapon. "That scene was fun to design, but a pain in the ass to shoot because it's such a confined space," Bird recalls. "It was a chance to build an environment full of pop-culture iconography. Fifteen years ago, when I was doing Iron Giant, studios were much more wary about letting their stuff be used in other movies, even if you paid them. Now it's an honour. We have Gort in the scene, from The Day The Earth Stood Still. There are Simpsons references, like the Comic Book Guy. And Zurg from Toy Story 2 is in there. We tried to keep it in the sci-fi realm, but other than that all bets were off."
The Dave Clark Five
(Chapter 6, 48:05)
The grinning robot agent is called Dave Clark. He has four sidekicks. Yes, you're not imagining things — this is a reference to the English pop group behind Glad All Over. "That's a really obscure one," laughs Bird. "I couldn't even name you a song, but we threw that little joke in there for the very attentive."
Robos Vs. Cops
(Chapter 6, 48:45)
Dave Clark whips out a laser-gun and wastes three police officers outside Blast From The Past. This unexpected assault gives Tomorrowland: A World Beyond a higher bodycount than The Babadook, but Bird points out that Disney movies have a history of violence. "You're never going to see an R-rated Disney film, but it's not a problem for one to have a bit of edge. A guy gets shot in the face in Treasure Island, and Walt Disney made that one. 20,000 Leagues has Nemo hitting slave ships, which sink to the bottom of the ocean, killing hundreds of people. But that's part of the story: the fact he was a slave himself earlier makes it a really strong piece of mythology."
(Chapter 7, 1:05:35)*
Holed up in Frank's booby-trapped house, Casey and the grouchy inventor fend off an attack from the robots. The sequence brims with invention, especially the final beat in which the duo escape via a bathtub. "I used to be a shower guy," says Bird, "but when I started directing I needed more intense relaxation and cooking like a lobster seemed like a good way to get it. But I don't know why the idea of the tub gag occurred to me. It just seemed like if I had to have an escape vehicle, that would be pretty cool. And I think it may be George Clooney's first bath scene!"
Down The Tubes
(Chapter 10, 1:23:53)
Frank's return to Tomorrowland finds the place in a bad state. "The city is a character, and has an arc," Bird says. "Note that the spaceport Casey saw earlier has actually been shut down. Birds are nesting there, because they aren't sending anything out. That was us saying, 'We should rethink shutting down things like the space programme, because it's important to keep sending things into the unknown. If we close that down, we're closing down our potential.'"
*(Chapter 12, 1:42:00)
The showdown between Frank and the villainous David Nix (Hugh Laurie) spills through a portal and onto a tropical beach. "It would have been smart of me if I'd written that in just so I could go to the Bahamas, but I'm not that clever," laughs Bird. "One of the producers tried to talk me into Florida, because it was close to the Space Coast where we were already filming, but no beach in Florida is anybody's idea of paradise. We took a very small guerrilla unit down to the Bahamas for two days and treated it like a super-low-budget movie in the middle of this much bigger production. Even George and Hugh carried a bit of equipment." The sand was a challenge. "We had this bit where the robot digs down and sprays sand into George and Hugh's faces, and man, they got coated. One of the stunt guys went, 'Guys, that swing was a miss.' And George, who's spitting out sand, was like, 'Oh, it was a miss? I didn't notice, because half the beach was hitting my face.'"
(Chapter 13, 1:50:49)
Nix gets permanently nixed, fittingly squashed by his own misused machine. His final words — "Oh, bollocks" — were not a Laurie ad-lib, as one might imagine, but in the script. "Hugh was our first choice and we were imagining him saying it as we typed it," says Bird. "It was a real treat to finally hear him say it all those months later. Nobody says 'bollocks' like Hugh."
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is out now in the UK on Blu-ray, DVD and iTunes