The Story of Disney’s Tomorrowland Begins in The Optimist Online Adventure
Christopher John Falcioni ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
Disney’s Tomorrowland just recently started production, but did you know that the story’s already starting?
Several weeks ago, the Disney Imagineers began a mysterious project called The Optimist, an augmented reality interactive experience specifically targeted to hardcore fans of the Disney company (such as those at attendance of the D23 Expo) where the online experience would never end. The experience began mostly through the internet, where fictional characters controlled by Disney would interact with anyone who cared to participate in the game (and most of whom stayed “in character” for the duration). Soon, the game would expand to include locales dotting Southern California and, eventually, culminate at events at secret locales in Disneyland.
The first clue was a link to a fictitious blog introducing the character of Amelia, a blogger from the Ocean State with two cats, a passion for filmmaking, and a mysterious grandfather named Carlos. Amidst Biology tests, Amelia decides to begin a new documentary focused on her grandfather. The extent of her knowledge is that he was some sort of writer at Disney who wrote a screenplay entitled Orbit’s Story, and that’s where we, fellow followers of her blog, begin to chime in.
When Amelia posts pictures of junk from her attic, we piece together that Carlos did some sort of writing for the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, where Walt Disney premiered multiple attractions that would soon make their way to Disney parks. All had a theme of progress and the future, including The Carousel Of Progress, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, The Magic Skyway (which features the Primeval World Dinosaur Diorama currently located on the Disneyland Railroad), and everyone’s favorite, It’s A Small World.
Was there something secret going on behind the scenes of Walt Disney’s most classic attractions? After fans found a sketchy telephone number of the construction company responsible for the World’s Fair attractions, they discovered documents discussing secret projects. Soon, a clue posted by Amelia lead some followers to visit The Tam, one of Walt Disney’s favorite restaurants, which recently put up a new poster at Walt’s favorite table.
The poster led Amelia and her real-life followers to DisneylandCartography.com, where the mysterious Wallace (another of Disney’s fictional characters) would also begin posting clues. A new map of Tomorrowland included clues leading people to find hidden, in-park patent numbers, corresponding to defunct Tomorrowland attractions. Soon, Amelia began posting more clues telling us about Walt Disney’s meetings with Wernher Von Braun, Ray Bradbury, and Howard Hughes – the makings of some serious science fiction.
Some followers got “vintage” records in the mail that included narrations that matched up with attraction soundtracks. The narrations (supposedly written by grandfather Carlos) described a vision of the future which featured “smart mobile devices” that could connect anyone at anytime in “the small world” – not too far from our future – as well as instantaneous time travel and the possibilities of eternal life. Hidden blueprints on the construction company website further showed that Walt Disney had created some of the innovations in front of our own eyes – The Carousel of Progress’ old incarnation was really a time-space transporter, a 360 Degree Theatre was a virtual-reality simulator, and the old rocket ship that used to park itself in Tomorrowland was really a training device.
Suddenly, Wallace begins posting articles on his website, acting as a treasure map, to the final leg of the journey which took followers to a variety of Walt Disney’s real-life haunts such as his favorite place to get chili and his two daughter’s favorite carrousel where he got the idea for Disneyland. The first stop was Club 33, an exclusive club hidden within Disneyland where Walt Disney entertained his guests and where the company still entertains executives and celebrities. There, clues began to form leading many to believe in a fake secret society of Optimists, including Thomas Edison, Gustav Eiffel, H.G. Wells, and yes, Amelia Mary Earhart, all working to build a better Tomorrow. Followers were also given a chance to visit Walt Disney’s exclusive, rarely seen personal apartment and meet Wallace in the flesh.
At the D23 Expo, Wallace met fans and sent out one final mega-quest that played out in Disneyland, took followers into the Lilly Belle (an exclusive train car on the Disneyland Railroad created by Walt for his wife, Lillian), and eventually into the Main Street Theatre, where visitors would be “welcomed into the Optimist Society” via film and receive an exclusive pin.
Clearly, Amelia’s grandfather was an Optimist and believed in great things for Tomorrow. However, her mother, a hard-working nurse, had a harder time believing in her father’s secrets. After several attempts throughout the journey to tell her mom about the project, Amelia was constantly led to a dead end. When her mom, burnt out beyond hope, went to a nursing convention in L.A. (quite a way from Anaheim, the home of Disneyland), Ameila asked followers of her blog one last favor: to implore her mother to visit Disneyland, even if just for an hour, so that she could see this film proving that her father wasn’t a lunatic, but rather a truly brilliant man who believed in the possibilities of the future.
The blog saw an outpouring of support from Amelia’s followers, many of whom were swept away in the story of family bonding, and soon Amelia’s mom was sent the link to the blog and convinced to spend her very limited free time in Disneyland. There, a true mixture of fantasy and reality occurred and Amelia’s mother walked down Main Street USA. A bevy of blog followers welcomed Amelia’s mom with open arms and led her straight away to the Main Street Theatre. The final image of the film? Amelia’s mother with her father, Carlos. Tears were shed as Amelia’s mom thanked everyone, then put Amelia on speakerphone to say a farewell to all of her followers, and a final blog post described how mom and daughter grew closer together through this fascinating family secret.
So… is it over? Just this chapter. This experience is meant to emulate a real life story, as opposed to the fictional movie that is the Tomorrowland film, starring George Clooney. The movie will definitely draw on these real life occurrences, and who knows? Tomorrowland might even be Carlos’ screenplay. More real life clues were released in a mysterious suitcase at D23, and a “Tomorrowland D23” app was recently released, providing even more clues to what exactly the Optimist Society was doing with all those secret technologies in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. And remember Amelia’s documentary? Her blog last said that she would put all of her interviews together into a rough cut soon, but she does have school to contend with. Another mystery remains: what will the documentary be titled? I tweeted Amelia and told her that The Optimist might be the best title for her film, as it describes her and her grandfather pretty well, she responded with a smiley face.