Disney’s Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

[Spoiler Alert: The piece contains spoilers for the new Disney film “Tomorrowland.” If you plan to see it, don’t read this now!]

Adam Savage from the hit TV show Mythbusters was recently at South by Southwest talking about getting students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and he said something that caught my attention.  According to the article:

He discussed how many creative fields, such as the arts, require the same type of thinking as science does. A filmmaker, for example, has to understand the rhythm and timing to be able to create a powerful narrative. “That is absolutely a mathematical algorithm,” he said. “The idea that science and art are opposites is a great misnomer… It’s not STEM, it’s STEAM. I add the A for art.”1

I loved that. Not just science, but art. And I would add literature and history and the other humanities – all the things that help make us, well, human.

That quote was on my mind recently when I caught the opening day of the Disney’s new movie, Tomorrowland. Now, I’m a huge Disneyphile, so of course when I heard that Walt Disney Pictures was releasing a film based on the Tomorrowland area of the theme parks, I could hardly contain my excitement. Having now seen it, I have to say, I loved what I saw.

Here’s the story: Humanity is at risk of self-destruction, and what we need to reverse course is a collection of the best and brightest of humanity who can work on the solutions. They’ve been gathered together in another dimension (!!) where they’ve constructed a utopian city called (spoiler alert!) Tomorrowland. Of course, there’s a bad guy who screws it all up, and we need a hero to come in and defeat the bad guy.

If you’ve ever been to the theme park, you know that Tomorrowland is all about the amazing technology the future might hold for us – technology that really frames the story of the movie. As Walt Disney described it when he dedicated Tomorrowland in 1955:

A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying Man’s achievements… A step into the future, with predictions of constructed things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals. The Atomic Age, the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.

So I was a little worried that the movie might try to say that science and technology – STEM – will save the world. But ultimately, they didn’t take that direction. The closing scenes show people from all walks of life being recruited for the new Tomorrowland: yes, scientists and engineers, but also musicians, and landscape designers, and if my eyes didn’t deceive me, a saffron-robed Buddhist monk.

Science and technology aren’t enough to create a better tomorrow, and as George Clooney’s character says in the movie, it’s not enough to defeat the bad guy.  You have to build a better tomorrow, and Tomorrowland asks us to take another look at the kind of people we need for this better tomorrow to become a reality. And what we need is humanity – all of it – at its best.

Have you seen it? What did you think? Leave your comments below.

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Cover image “Tomorrowland at Dusk” via Flickr Creative Commons user Big DumpTruck, available here.

  1. Watch Adam Savage’s full keynote address here: http://youtu.be/EjOwusjrpmg

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