NASA collaborated with Disney on their newest movie offering, Tomorrowland and came a full circle from when one of their scientists worked with Walt Disney to translate the scientist’s vision of the future on television. The agency simply returned the favor this time.
In the 1950s, NASA engineer and the “father of rocketry,” Werner von Braun collaborated with Disney on three space-related movies. The show aired on ABC and was a science factual series. When Man in Space, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond aired, President Eisenhower called Disney to compliment them on the new show. Disney’s theme park in California also had a section called Tomorrowland and Von Braun’s movies helped to increase public interest in space and the future.
So it was a homecoming of sorts for NASA when they got called by the producer of Tomorrowland, Jeffrey Chernov to review the script. Bert Ulrich, the NASA liaison for Tomorrowland told Blastr, the space agency is an inherent part of the movie because the protagonist, Casey, played by Britt Robertson, is associated to the space agency. Her father is an engineer at NASA and is about to lose his job as they close the space program by dismantling their launch pads. The agency was asked to primarily consult on Casey’s back story and the agency reviewed the script and tweaked it a bit, so the movie is backed by scientific authority every time it talks about the space program.
Casey’s NASA baseball cap, is also another important symbol in the movie. It reminds her of Earth, her father and her dreams. Ulrich calls is a “symbol that permeates throughout the film” and instantly makes people recognize the character. It makes her relatable. He also said that some of the scenes were shot at their Cape Canaveral facilities, the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA’s authority on all things space and future technology, even if it is unintended, helps make the movie more realistic. It lets viewers imagine a world where something like Tomorrowland is possible, where technology is advancing the human race and making the Earth a better place. It also reflects the agency’s goal of revealing the unknown and producing technology that can help the people on Earth. Casey’s interest in engineering is also explained as is her determination to save the world.
For Tomorrowland director, Brad Bird, Disney and NASA’s previous collaboration had an impact on his movie. In an interview with Slash Film he spoke about how Von Berner’s movies very factually stated things which could become a reality, like alien life forms and going to the moon. This helped pave the way for imagining things in the movie which looked attainable. He also mentions watching the space shuttle Endeavor flying over him while he was still working on the movie in 2012. The Endeavor felt like the end of something great to him and Tomorrowland script writer, Damon Lindelof. NASA shutting of their space exploration program, reflects the thoughts that were going through their mind then.
Just saw the Space Shuttle flyover from the Disney Animation building roof. Lindelof calls it "an open-casket funeral for the Space Age".
— Brad Bird (@BradBirdA113) September 21, 2012
For NASA, fiction has always been a source of inspiration and any time a space exploration movie is made, like Disney’s Tomorrowland, it comes a full circle. Scientists collaborate on movies and these movies further inspire the newer generation of budding scientists. Many present- day scientists were inspired by movies like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Star Wars franchise and books by Jules Verne, Douglas Adams and Orson Welles. According to Ulrich, the agency hopes that it would reignite the public’s interest in space exploration and science.
By Anugya Chitransh
Slash Film: Brad Bird ‘Tomorrowland’ Interview: ‘The Iron Giant’ Blu-Ray, Epcot, NASA, Space Mountain, ‘Incredibles 2′ and Disneyland
Blastr: Exclusive: NASA on how ‘Tomorrowland may spark curiosity in real exploration’
iDigital Times: Tomorrowland NASA Liaison Bert Ulrich Tells Us How Science Fiction Inspires the Future
Marshall Space Flight Center History Office: Article on Von Braun and Walt Disney “The Disney-Von Braun Collaboration and Its Influence on Space Exploration”
Photo Courtesy of Andy’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License