Saturday, June 6, 2015

The message of Tomorrowland

The internet is an interesting place. Two weeks ago the web was awash in stories proclaiming Tomorrowland as a mediocratic box office failure with adjectives like stinker and turkey. If the article wasn't taking pot shots at Brad Bird for being preachy, it was hanging an albatross around a geriatric George Clooney for being washed up.

A search today discloses articles which are much more balanced, sounding like they were written by objective reviewers who actually saw the film and took some time to think about it before putting their fingers to the keys. As of June 7th, Tomorrowland has grossed $76 million domestically and $170 million worldwide; recovering 90% of its budget.

One of my favorite reviews was written by Matt Zoller Seitz on, but Rolling Stone, IGN and Entertainment News all seem to have produced fair and objective commentaries.  The Times critics still seem to be engaged in a bi-costal battle to see which can be more sophisticatedly cynical.

Tomorrowland asks us to consider the effects of being awash in a sea of global cynicism. It posts the question; What would you do if you were 100% sure the world was going to take a turn towards certain destruction, in 60 only days? What if you learned that the nature of your beliefs about that could make a difference? (That was expressed at two points in the movie and in both cases I wanted more.)

In a May 2014 article in Men's Health, Matt Zimmerman wrote about being cynical.

"I've interviewed upward of a hundred hypersuccessful people—from billionaire CEOs and future Hall of Fame athletes to doctors and teachers... successful people have one common trait; an utter lack of cynicism. They find what they need without asking for permission; they're driven, talented, and work through negatives by focusing on the positives.

The most successful people of the past 10 years: Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, the Google guys, are not cynical. George Clooney, Bono, Pixar's central creative team are as genuine about their lives and work as you can get. Cynics don't become presidents of the United States. They don't become top CEOs, entrepreneurs, or researchers. 

Whatever you do, elite performance (which is the delivery vehicle for success) requires a sincere belief in the cause, your own ability and the very system in which your performance happens. Sincere belief cannot exist in the same space as cynicism.

That's why cynicism is so dangerous.  If you loose sincere belief, in your job or your relationships, you reduce your ability to contribute, no matter how talented you are.  One of the great summations of this approach came from the actor Mark Wahlberg: 

"All I can do is try to point out the obvious. If you're motivated and doing the right thing, good things are going to happen." 

I have a sincere belief in sincere belief. I've seen it work too many times for it to be coincidence. To keep pushing yourself in the face of failure, that's real."

To which I add; There is a 100% guaranteed outcome from quitting. It's called failure. Perhaps that's the message to take from Tomorrowland - be the one who doesn't quit.

"But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period -- I am addressing myself to the School -- surely from this period of ten months, this is the lesson: Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing, great or small, large or petty -- never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." - Winston Churchill, October 29, 1941

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


At 1:30 PM yesterday afternoon The's U-Jin Lee's story; Disney (DIS) Stock Falling on Weak 'Tomorrowland' Box Office Sales opened with the following;

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of The Walt Disney Co. (DIS - Get Report) are falling 0.79% to $109.39 after Disney's new sci-fi film "Tomorrowland" fell short of expectations, pulling in $41.7 million when it was expected to open at $50 million, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Let's put this in perspective; The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 190 points yesterday, slightly over 1% while Disney was off just under 3/4%.

Where is the correlation between Tomorrowland's $41.7 million Memorial Day Weekend earnings - which put it first at the box office - and Disney's stock dropping 3/4% on a day when the market fell a full 1%?

On a related note; Fortune Magazine's Tom Huddleston reported that overall Memorial Day weekend movie ticket sales were off 17% from last year and then goes on to write;

"Disney's Tomorrowland set the tone for the disappointing weekend by topping the box office with just $41.7 million in estimated box office gross.  The film was expected to make at least $50 million in it's opening weekend."

Lets do the math here; 

Initial estimates were that Tomorrowland would bring in $50 million. Overall movie ticket sales were only 83% of last year (1.00 - 0.17= 0.83). 83% of $50 million is... $41.5 million. 

So, why don't the headlines read; 

"Disney's Tomorrowland Slightly Exceeds Adjusted Box Office Expectations"

"Disney Stock Floats Higher on Sinking Market."

Maybe we all need to take a friend to see Tomorrowland and write some letters to some editors urging them to fact check their stories, or at least teach their staff reporters a little basic math.

By the way, Tomorrowland pins and Plus Ultra T Shirts will be available in the parks soon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

WANTED: Tomorrowland Director's Cut

Update - As of June 4th, Tomorrowland has been delivering solid returns at the box office, with a worldwide total of $140 million over two weeks.

With the digital ink barely dry on Tomorrowland, the media awash in proclamations of box office mediocrity and yesterday's viewing still fresh, here is my take on the film; I liked it, and want a Director's Cut DVD, so Brad Bird can actually tell the rest of the story. I did have one problem with the film, which I'll discuss below, but don't let that deter you from seeing Tomorrowland yourself.

One of the key plot elements of Tomorrowland is that humanity has become cynical to the point of hopelessness, partially because of being bombarded with images of violence and destruction in the media. This threatens the future of the entire world. My issue is that the solution Tomorrowland deploys to the immediate problem is delivered with violence and destruction. Maybe I'm old fashioned, or just saw too many Star Trek episodes, but I'm a firm believer in nonviolent solutions.

This drift towards violence begins once the adult Frank Walker takes center stage. Although Athena's encounter with the pickup truck and the events at the memorabilia shop are precursors.

In the beginning of the story Casey is solving problems using her creativity and imagination.  Even her initial pinprick acts of sabotage against the US Government can be viewed as a cry of justifiable frustration, for both the imminent loss of her father's job and the cutback in the US Space Program.

What happens next is where things started to feel really dissonant for me. If you've seen the Japanese trailer on YouTube, you know its also where Walt was removed from the storyline. By the time Casey and Frank have escaped the house, it's pretty clear which wolf is being fed. From that point on the film uses more and more destructive special effects further diminishing the potential value of Casey's problem solving abilities to change the future with her optimistic imagination.

That's also why the final resolution of the story didn't quite work for me. If it's true that good ends are never justified by bad means, endings awash in time warping fighting and kilo-ton explosions are dissonant. Something else, like taking control of the broadcast facility and changing the messages to ones that were more - dare I say, optimistic - would have been truer in tone. I also think Brad Bird is creative enough to come up with good ways to clarify and resolve personal relationships in the story. What if Athena's consciousness could have been transferred *into* the machine, for example?

Still, the film is a pretty, amazing, ride. The Eiffel Tower sequence alone is worth the price of admission. It will be interesting to see how the true Disney fans respond to it. They give the best feedback because they have the highest expectations and care enough to want things "plussed up."

A dream is a wish your heart makes... and now, we too will always have Paris.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Turn of a Phrase

Over the past three days, movie critics have been having a field day labeling Tomorrowland's box office performance as "lackluster" and "disappointing." Even this morning's article in Variety revealing that Tomorrowland is now at the top of the charts sounds cynical.  Something really interesting starts to happen when you remove the emotionally laden adjectives and simply report the facts, which sounds more like this:

LOS ANGELES - "Tomorrowland" opens with a $32.2 million debut. The Disney release is expected to pull in $40.7 million for the four-day Memorial Day weekend. That's would be good enough for a first place finish. The film had been projected to generate $40 million over the three-day period and $50 million over the four-day stretch. Overseas figures thus far have been $26.7 million, for a global three day total of $58.9 million, roughly 1/3 of the film's $180 million production cost. This years' Memorial holiday ticket sales have been 20% below the same period last year.

“We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public.”

Even if you aren't a fan of Walt's vision of an Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, which one film critic has now called "dystopian" and "Orwellian", there is one Walt Disney quote that pretty much summed up his position on film critics.

By the way; on Friday Disney was valued at $181 Billion, with a stock price of $110 per share, which reflects a nearly 700% gain since 2008.

So, if you are looking for something good to do today, use the film review section of your local paper in the bottom of your hamster cage and take your family or a friend to see Tomorrowland.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Walt's Shadow

What's Shadow

There's a bit of a buzz going on in one of the online forums about a change to the storyline in Tomorrowland which eliminated a direct reference to Walt Disney in the film. The scene appeared one minute and twenty six seconds into the Japanese Trailer, which appeared on YouTube April 3, 2015.

In his book Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull observes that almost all projects go thru phases and sometimes things get thrown out because the concept isn't working. That "working" thing can be a very tricky place. It's where the "magic" happens. It's where the guests willingly suspend their disbelief, allowing themselves to become immersed in the show to the point that it becomes reality. That is where Tomorrowland sets a very high bar. Athena's introduction to the website makes it clear; "If you are ready to change the world, and it looks like you are, then all you need to do is turn around."

After having viewed a dozen trailers and exploring the Take Me to Tomorrowland website, I have to admit that it has worked for me so far. I want Tomorrowland to be real. That is the truly unique aspect of this film. It wants to extend your experience beyond the theater. It wants you to believe Tomorrowland's message completely enough that you will actually go out and change the world for the better.

That is a very lofty goal and accomplishing it will require a great deal of sensitivity and finesse. I suspect that's also why Walt ended up on the cutting room floor. Introducing him into the story broke the spell, reminding you that it is "just" a movie - a little bit about Walt - made by the company that still bears his name, but don't tell anybody..."wink-wink".

He's been gone nearly 50 years. Disney's Land has changed in millions of ways, but his untimely death didn't have to be the end of what Walt wanted to accomplish. This is where things start to get really interesting, because now things are moving out of a land of fantasy and entertainment and into the land of faith and belief and action where personal, even global, salvation and redemption becomes part of the conversation.

In a previous post I mentioned how every little girl - including the ones inside grown up women - want to have the experience of wearing Cinderella's dress, looking perfect, and being treated like a princess. Tomorrowland has an even loftier goal. It wants to make everyone care about, and have the courage to try and fix, what's wrong in the world - regardless of their physical condition or circumstances.

In that way, Tomorrowland has the potential to be the most powerful story Disney has ever tried to tell.

Personally, I hope it works.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Disney Land Challenge

Back in 2010,'s Bob Hill wrote an article called Walt Disney's 8 secrets to success. In it, he summarized what he felt were the "eight principles that made Walt Disney one of the greatest icons of the 20th century." I've summarized and annotated them here;
  • Focus on “the experience” as a key component to increasing value.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations with relentless attention to detail and personalized service that is designed to revolutionize the industry.
  • Passion; Disney films and theme parks are labors of love.
  • Stay true to Disney's values.
  • Hire reliable people who understand the vision and trust them to transfer it to others.
  • Defy convention: Buck the odds and ignore the critics. Trust your instincts.
  • Leave behind something to grow.
When I hear concerns and complaints people have about the company, or their experience in the parks, I try to frame them in the context of Walt's goals and vision. For example; I ask myself if the cause of a complaint is the result of failing to exceed expectations. I also ask if those expectations were realistic and if there was a fair exchange of value - including travel time. This helps take the conversation outside of individual preferences for one attraction or another and places it in the context of a proven set of values which are the historical foundation of the company's success.

On a related note; I believe that responsibility for preserving and improving the park experience is not one sided. I think we - as Guests - have a responsibility to play by Walt's rules when in his Kingdom. The "Magic" flourishes best when both everyone willingly suspends their disbelief and embraces the possibilities of a having a mutually magical experience.

“Disney Land is something that will never be finished, something I can keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. I just finished a live-action picture. It’s gone. I can’t touch it. I want something live, something that will grow. The park is that.” - Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

PerformancExcellence (1994)

Back in 1994, when Disney was about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary.  Judson C. Green, then chairman of Theme Parks and Resorts, penned a pamphlet for Cast Members which "defined the daily goal of exceptional performance... so we may all share a common foundation and expectation of how we intend to work together in the future." 

In 2000, Green left Disney to become President and CEO of  Navigation Technologies Corp, as described in an April 18th article in the LA Times, but the legacy of his vision for the future of Disney lives on in these words:


  • Exceeding guest expectations
  • Getting involved
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Sharing information and suggestions
  • Working smarter
  • Trying new ways to do things
  • Listening to others
  • Being a team player

Our Disney Culture:

We have a rich heritage, traditions, quality standards, and values which we believe are critical factors to our success. This foundation, as well as certain traits and behaviors, create a unique environment which we call the Disney Culture. We will seek to understand and cultivate our culture and challenge ourselves to model the behaviors that it represents.

We respect the Disney Heritage and Traditions:

We are committed to a friendly and informal work environment.
We show our pride and respect for the Disney Product and Legacy.
We emphasize Cast training and recognition.
We pursue synergistic opportunities.
We demonstrate our concern for our environment and community.
We emphasize "family" entertainment.
We protect the public's trust in Disney.
We are committed to education.

We ensure the Disney Quality Standards:

We put safety first, to provide secure, safe experiences for our Guests as well as our Cast.
We give friendly, personalized service and treat every guest as a VIP.
We deliver flawless and professional presentations every day, for every guest.
We strive for the fastest and most effective systems and procedures in order to provide a quality Guest experience.

We share these Disney Values:

HONESTY - We deal with each other in a sincere and straightforward manner.
INTEGRITY - We act in a manner consistent with our words and beliefs.
RESPECT - We treat others with care and consideration.
COURAGE - We pursue our beliefs with strength and persistence.
OPENNESS - We share information freely.
DIVERSITY - We seek value and respect differences among our fellow Cast Members.
BALANCE - WE strive for stability and vitality in our personal and professional lives.

We demonstrate these Disney Traits and Behaviors:

We enjoy making our guests happy.
We care about our fellow cast members.
We work as a team.
We deliver quality.
We foster creativity and innovation.
We encourage risk-taking, realizing that mistakes amy happen.
We are attentive to every detail.
We find enjoyment and fun in our work.
We assume responsibility beyond our individual roles.
We are emotionally committed to Disney.


Share their vision and belief in the Disney Culture.
Share their enthusiasm and pride in Disney with the Cast.
Energize others with their commitment for PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE.
Display decisiveness and a sense of urgency in achieving goals and objectives.
Encourage creativity and risk-taking.
Promote teamwork to accomplish our business objectives.
Set challenging goals which are realistic, clear and measurable.
Hold themselves and other Cast Members accountable for their performance.
Unleash the potential of each Cast Member by providing developmental opportunities.
Listen intently to diverse opinions.
Communicate honestly and frequently, soliciting feedback and suggestions from Cast Members at all levels of the organization.
Interject a sense of humor, fun and enjoyment in their work.
Set the stage and work with others to produce the show...
Celebrate the Victories!

Walt may have said it more simply, but I think the message still rings true to his vision.