Tomorrowland

Of all the live-action projects showcased during Saturday’s live-action panel at D23, one of the most highly anticipated was Tomorrowland, the new sci-fi project by Brad Bird. Disney brought out the famous mystery box that inspired the movie, showing off its contents, and offered a peek at some “found footage” from the box. Read our report of the event after the jump.

The dusty old box didn’t look all that remarkable from the outside. It was labeled “That Darn Cat,” an apparent reference to the studio’s 1965 film. Inside the box were an assortment of strange artifacts, and though many of them were certainly just recently created props, it was tough to tell which were real and which were not.

Among them was a photograph of Walt Disney and Amelia Earhart from 1945 — years after she disappeared. It’s an obvious hoax, as Earhart’s head had simply been placed on Cary Grant’s body. But the Tomorrowland filmmakers were curious to know why the Imagineers had engineered the fake in the first place, and wondered what it might mean if the photo had been real.

Also included in the box was an August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories, and a bit of cardboard featuring the strange insignia seen on the outside of the box. Someone had jotted down a code which corresponded to a story about Armageddon, hinting that the Imagineers had used the book to pass messages to one another.

The symbol appeared again on a dried up piece of parchment detailing plans for the 1964 World’s Fair. Under a black light, the paper showed blueprints for another structure, possibly something under the World’s Fair attraction.

But the “coolest thing in the box,” according to the Disney team, was a record disc dated November 1963. Unusually, it was made of metal, and Disney was able to extract data from the bands on the disc. They “discovered” some animated footage, apparently decades old, which they had “cleaned up” to show the D23 audience.

The animated clip was done in 1960s style, albeit with modern-day quality. Much of it was choppy, so the description that follows are just a few quick impressions from the scene.

It starts with humanity at the dawn of history, smashing together two rocks to make a fire and creative cave drawings, before jumping forward to ancient Greece and other cities. ”There is no such thing as fate,” proclaims a voice that resembles Orson Welles’.

Fast-forward to the World’s Fair in Paris in 1989. Images of Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel flit by, and they appear to be working together on a big, secret project. We also see pictures of various technological advancements including radios, cars, battleships, tanks, planes, electricity, the nuclear bomb, and the burning streets that followed the bomb. The implication is that technology is a double-edged sword — it has great potential for danger, but it also represents optimism for the future.

“And fellow traveler, that’s why you were invited here,” the voiceover explains. “At long last we are building that tomorrow. A shinking beacon of hope. In just 20 short years, we will share this extraordinary place with the entire world. Would you like to see it?”

We’ll get our chance to do just that when Tomorrowland opens December 12, 2014. In the meantime, Disney announced the release of a Tomorrowland mobile app, and a D23 booth to open tomorrow at 2 PM. Keep an eye out for our coverage of the booth.

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