Disney’s Tomorrowland is a movie based on the Disneyland Park area that aims to get back to the original ’50s-style futurist vision that inspired Walt when he built the park. Starring George Clooney and directed by The Incredibles‘ Brad Bird, the picture is far less dark and bombastic than what you’re getting from most of the sci-fi/superhero franchises out there lately.
At NASA, there’s been a kind of holding pattern over the last few years while they wait for Congress to wake up and make space exploration a priority again. Part of their strategy has been to give technical support to Hollywood movies that remind viewers why astronauts and outer space were such a part of our national identity. Tomorrowland joins movies like Gravity and Interstellar on the quality roster of movies with NASA technical advice. We spoke to NASA’s Bert Ulrich, the agency’s liaison for film and TV collaborations, about Tomorrowland.
NASA worked closely with Disney and director Brad Bird on this movie.
They wanted to shoot on site at the Kennedy Space Center. There’s a scene around a launch pad that they wanted to have NASA involved. The main character’s name is Casey and her father was a NASA engineer. There’s also a symbolic hat that plays a role in the film throughout the film as well.
I think that Brad saw a link between NASA and Disney in terms of Tomorrowland and space exploration. There was a similar place where all this inspiration came from and I think that he wanted to sort of get sort of the retro feel of some of the films shot at Kennedy and incorporate that in the film as well. He seemed to have a visual culture of NASA in his mind and have that play a role in the beginning of the movie.
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A lot of the folks who worked at NASA in the ‘60s & ‘70s say that Disney’s vision of the future was a big inspiration for them wanting to work to put men into space, sort of like how a lot of contemporary fighter pilots say they were inspired by “Top Gun.” Tomorrowland at Disneyland was a big influence on how Americans saw the future and this film seems to capture some of that post-WWII idea of the future.
Yes, it does. At the same time, there’s a retro vibe because there’s sort of a time travel thing going on too. The future and how it’s perceived and the hope that it brings is very evident in the movie, especially at the end.
There are a lot of philosophical questions that arise in this film. What’s our place in the universe? What’s our role in the future? How is the Earth going to look in the future and how do we take care of our planet? They’re questions that we deal with day-to-day here at NASA in terms of exploring the future and how we look at Earth Sciences. We are trying to better understand our planet and other planets and other worlds that are out there.
NASA works on films and films are a wonderful way to reach the public and inspire them and also maybe have them engage their curiosity to a greater extent so that they want to learn more about space. And some even youth, and in this situation, youth especially, that they may be inspired to learn more about sciences and mathematics and engineers and maybe even someday some of them may want to take part in the journey to space and to the future.
So I think from that standpoint and also I just think the main role is a young, very, very bright woman who is a really wonderful role model for women as well, and I just think that’s very evident in the film as well. So I just think it’s got a lot of depth, the film, and I think it also touches upon human questions that we have as human beings in the universe that also NASA deals with on a day to day basis. So it’s good.