It’s no secret that I am someone who drinks the Disney Kool-Aid. My Disneyland premium annual pass almost never leaves my wallet and I check in there so often that people have asked me if that’s where I work. Fans like Walt Disney products and parks for a multitude of reasons and the studio’s diverse movies for even a gazillion other reasons. Like many of you, I could not wait for the movie “Tomorrowland” to come out. The trailers gave me chills, the Disneyland preview had me singing, “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow…” But, like many of you, I did not rush out to the theater when it opened. Believe me, it wasn’t because of the lukewarm reviews. My schedule has been insane lately and I really just couldn’t get there. I would be lying if I said that the mediocre reviews didn’t affect my speed in seeing it though. I finally got around to watching it at the El Capitan a month after it came out and all I have to say is Tomorrowland is a pivotal movie to see if you’re a feminist or have a young daughter or two.
“There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?” Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) asks her father quoting his own analogy. Casey is a teenage character who is not obsessed with boys or selfies, but rather with science and space. I was surprised to hear Casey was originally written to be a boy. The good news is Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof had the foresight to see that a good character is a good character and that gender doesn’t have to define them. So, these two visionaries changed Casey to a young woman. Bravo!
“There is a completely false perception of, ‘Well, our main character is interested in space travel, so it’s gotta be a boy,’ but the first time I said, ‘Well, what if it was a young girl,’ it just felt like it was exactly right for us,” said Lindelof. Wow, I might actually start liking Lindelof (I still haven’t forgiven him for Prometheus though! Never forget.). That being said, the bankability of women at the box office is growing. The Hunger Games franchise certainly proves women can be capable action stars, but unfortunately suffers from cliché emotional hang-ups centered around romance with a guy.
Lindelof continues, “What if she doesn’t get distracted by romantic entanglements? What if her “romance” is with the future?” That sounds great to me! Could this be the summer of blockbusters with strong women leading at the box office?
Terminator Genesys brings Sarah Connor back to the frontline this summer. I was happy to see this as I’ve always looked up to characters like Sarah Connor and Ripley from Aliens. Not to mention, this has been the year of female-driven comedies (Spy, Trainwreck and Pitch Perfect 2 anyone?!).
Disney has led the race in making their films slightly more progressive. Ratatouille had a strong female chef. Brave finally gave Pixar a dynamic female lead. Frozen, well, you don’t need me to tell you about the girl power that is in Frozen. Malificient proved that you don’t need the love of a prince anymore. And now, Inside Out’s Riley is complex and dynamic as female animated characters get. Let’s see if The Force Awakens continues this trend with Daisy Ridley playing the lead.
Now, as I mentioned, Tomorrowland has two awesome female characters and both are under the age of 18! Well, sort of. Athena (SPOILER ALERT) is a robot recruiter in the form of a prim and proper English school girl, but don’t let her ladylike façade fool you. She’s as tough as they come, tackling comedy and action in one particularly entertaining scene in a collectibles shop.
Athena (Raffey Cassidy) is looking for a new recruit and finds the daring, risk-taker, Casey. She has courage, determination and hope: exactly what Tomorrowland needs. Donning her father’s NASA hat and jeans, Casey is exactly the kind of female protagonist I’ve wanted to see on the big screen for a long time. She climbs fences, gets into trouble, but most of all believes that the future can be brighter. Her connection to her father and her risk-taking remind me of a young Katherine Janeway in the book “Mosaic” written by Jeri Taylor. Glad to see this trend of father/daughter relationships continuing from “Interstellar.” I loved that film for many reasons, but the father/daughter bond really cemented my love for it.
There is a spirit of optimism about Tomorrowland and both of its female characters embody it. And guess what? This film passes the Bechdel Test. Yes, you could argue that Athena is a robot and therefore, not female. That is semantics though. The spirit of the character is definitely female, so I say she counts!
Lindelof felt the script was missing a certain sweetness from Athena, who he describes as “an eleven-year-old that has to express emotional maturity, depth, intelligence and a world-weary attitude.” He could see that Raffey was capable of bringing that to the role based on her audition. It’s nice to see meaty roles for children that don’t belittle them or make them a cliché. If anything, Athena illustrates that gender and age have very little to do with getting a mission accomplished.
With Tomorrowland” behind her, Raffey hopes the things she learned will help her land a role like Saoirse Ronan’s in “Hanna” — the 2011 movie she says is her second favorite movie. (No. 1 is “Tomorrowland,” of course.) I loved Hanna when it came out, but it was another movie that seemed to come and go from theaters in the blink of an eye. It definitely left a strong impression in my mind. Young female assassin? Oh, hell yes!
For Athena’s fight scenes, Raffey had to do two months of gymnastics, swimming, and martial arts training. “She just couldn’t get enough of all of it,” said Bird, adding that Cassidy did most of the stunts herself. “She wanted large orders of everything.”
While all of this is awesome, why was all the marketing of this film centered around Frank Walker (George Clooney and young George Clooney)? Yes, I know he’s a movie star, but if you ask me, the days of basing your film’s success on star power are long gone. Look how many movies with big names tank at the box office. I’m looking at you, “Aloha.” Perhaps, Tomorrowland would have had a fighting chance at being more popular if the marketing was more action-driven and centered around the two leading ladies.
I couldn’t tell you what the movie was about from the trailers except that young George Clooney ends up going to “Tomorrowland” after following a girl into “It’s a Small World” at the ’64 World’s Fair. Oh yeah, and by touching a Tomorrowland pin you can somehow get there, but you’ll end up in a cornfield first. Not exactly marketing gold. Granted, Tomorrowland is not exactly easy material to wrap your mind around and sum up in a short trailer.
For me, the bigger picture ideas behind Tomorrowland appealed, but I’m a Star Trek fan. I already subscribe to the better future philosophy. What I didn’t expect, was seeing Clooney get a run for his money by two ladies less than half of his age. Not only did Raffey and Robertson keep up, they actually stole many scenes from him.
I don’t get it. Movies like the Avengers make a buttload of money, but the marketing is all Captain America, Thor and Ironman. Black Widow doesn’t get merchandising (for Christ’s sake the motorcycle she rode in the Age of Ultron was given to Captain America in the toy version)! Bravo to the women who protested her lack of merchandising and got that trending on Twitter.
Sadly, Tomorrowland’s Athena and Casey weren’t given much merchandise either. Sure, they got a couple of tiny action figures, but those were hardly anything to write home about. Funko put out not one, but two versions of George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker! Yet, they couldn’t bother to make a Pop! figure for either of the two young women. They even made one of the male villain. This speaks to a larger problem. Why won’t companies believe in the buying power of female audiences? Most of the women I know spend lots of money on their fandom through their cosplay outfits, collectibles, Blu-ray and convention tickets. It would be nice to have corporate America take notice and actually start making merchandise that appeals, but doesn’t pander to us. What I mean is that I would love Black Widow merchandise, but it doesn’t have to draw attention to the fact that it’s for girls. Let it be for everyone, but let’s just get some representation at least. I know many guys who would love some Black Widow swag.
The action figures below, in all their retro-like glory, are hardly anything I would want to display on my bookshelf. I’ve seen way more women collect Pop! figures than men, but yet, all we get are these lame “fully posable” action figures with horrible likeness from Funko. Talk about a missed opportunity.
With all this being said, I still can’t figure out why the movie did so poorly. I raved about it, but it seems like the “uncool” thing to do. Twitter can be a pool of cynical sharks on most days. At times, Twitter seems to be the realm of clever negativity. People are praised for how snarkily they can tear someone or something down. So, it’s hard to see such an uplifting film like Tomorrowland trending over there even though the message of the movie targets the very cynics that won’t give it the time of day.
Do yourself a favor and pick it up when it comes out on DVD and Blu-ray. Disney is doing right by women lately, but this trend can only continue to thrive if viewers support such films by putting their money where their mouth is. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, but I at least hope you see the value in having such inspiring female characters be the norm in our society.