Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) was on hand at the D23 Expo this past weekend as part of the Let The Adventures Begin: Live Action At The Walt Disney Studios presentation. Bird, along with co-writer Damon Lindelof (Lost), presented artifacts in their continued myth building for the 2014 Disney live-action film, Tomorrowland. The mysterious “1952” box, which has been utilized for the last several months to tease the film, was brought out on stage and explored in front of the audience. A few enigmatic items from the Disney studios past were unveiled, a doctored picture of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart was shown and a vintage copy of Amazing Stories was used as a key for some cryptic message decoding. But by far the most interesting and entertaining portion of the presentation – and the bit that had me most intrigued about the project – was a clip of animation that has ties to Pixar.
One of the items found in the mysterious box was a badly damaged disc that contained long-lost animation, entitled A History of Tomorrow. The legend goes that Pixar is currently trying to restore the footage for public viewing and the D23 Expo-goers were the first to view what’s been salvaged so far. In the Tomorrowland app released this past weekend, Display #6 discusses the disc in detail. Below is the portion that links the animation to Pixar:
The disc, they said, was imprinted with a never-before-seen piece of Disney animation from the early sixties. They also reported a complication: Due to damage done to the disc, the content had been adversely affected.
Enter Pixar Animation Studios, which was enlisted to handle the sensitive project of whipping the animation into viewable shape. The work is ongoing: Of the seven minutes of content believed to be on the disc, Pixar has only been able to yield three minutes of high quality footage. Yet those three minutes give us a good idea of the entire narrative.
The clip shown was a fantastic piece of animation designed to look like old Disney shorts. Using styles reminiscent of Disney’s war time short subjects and going all the way up to the more stylized animations of the 1960’s, the purposely aged and grainy clip was a beautiful homage to Disney’s past. If you remember the propaganda films for World War II and the Ludwig Von Drake educational shorts then you have a sense of what the animated film looked like. As it is still supposedly being “restored,” there was no narrative to follow in the choppy few minutes that were shown. However, it looks like we do have confirmation that Pixar was responsible for at least some of (if not all) the beautiful animation. How the disc, like all the other items in the 1952 box, plays into the film still remains a mystery.
Bird previously directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Pixar, and he continues to be a part of the studio’s Brain Trust, so it is no surprise to see him collaborating with the studio on the project in some form even though the actual film itself is a Disney live-action picture. It is practically a given that he has had discussions about the film’s story with the Brain Trust in order to strengthen the plot and the characters, as past filmmakers at Disney have done so. Involving Pixar further, even if it turns out simply to be for the marketing, is ingenious, as it is another great demonstration of the studio’s abilities.
Bird and Lindelof only presented a few items compared to the elaborate Tomorrowland pavilion on the Expo floor (no photos were allowed within the booth). Using iPads and earphones, guests were invited on an audio tour of artifacts and documents found in the mysterious box. Blueprints for “it’s a small world” as seen at the 1964 World’s Fair revealed a series of tunnels and a hidden room beneath the showpiece. Sketches for unfinished projects, a robot that was never further developed after Walt’s death in 1966 and countless other items were on display to further root the mythic box in Disney’s past. Events, legends, memories and accounts from actual Imagineers have been purposely woven together to help create one overarching myth centered around this section of Walt’s original park.
All of it was great fun and an interesting concept for a film based on a land in an amusement park. The Tomorrowland section of Disney Parks has historically struggled to keep up with its name. The pressure to constantly update the area to represent our ever-changing vision of the future has proven a difficult task for the company. A redesign in 1998 produced a new look with mixed reviews. The area currently houses a diverse collection of attractions featuring everything from Star Wars to Finding Nemo. Will this new film be used to re-conceptualize the land in a way that can keep it permanently tied to its roots in the Space Age? We will have to wait and see.
The film, which stars George Clooney, is set for a Holiday release in 2014. For a better look at all the displays that D23 Expo attendees had the opportunity to study, you can download the Tomorrowland app from the App Store.