Friday, I skipped checking out Tomorrowland on its opening night and instead headed to Queens to see the world premiere of another piece of cinematic futurism, Modern Ruin: A World’s Fair Pavilion. The documentary—which made its debut in the shadow of the New York State Pavilion at the Queens Theatre—follows the story of a New York World’s Fair Pavilion, told by the people who lived it.
It’s an interesting story, to be sure, but what I love most about Modern Ruin was the look back at Flushing Meadows Corona Park as it was—both during the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and in the years immediately following. When it was a lively, vibrant, beautiful space. When it was alive and in its prime. Its slow decline and even slower rise out of the rusty muck are fascinating, but they’re not what draw me to the space or the story. So I reveled in the glimpses of the New York State Pavilion in her glory.
Tomorrowland appealed in a similar way: The short look at the World’s Fair in the film’s early scenes drew me in and made me immediately care about the story’s trajectory. If Tomorrowland started there, at that magical spot in that fleeting moment, then I want to know everything.
Even as the movie meandered through sci-fi and disaster-movie tropes (in a delightful, if slightly disappointing and completely uneven, way—no question, although if you want a proper review, I recommend Lesley Coffin’s on The Mary Sue), I was continually taken back to the fact that Tomorrowland was founded on that same kind of energetic and hopeful positivity that made the New York World’s Fair a reality twice over. That, to me, makes it a place worth saving.
That said, the common thread between both films isn’t just futurism or even the World’s Fair. The central message, I contend, of the two stories is this: It’s easy to sense doom, feel hopeless, give up … it’s hard to do something about it. Like, really hard. It takes bravery, brains and the strength of your convictions. But that’s why it’s so imperative that we do the hard thing. That’s an important and inspiring message, and one that excites me—especially in this era of negativity and anger.
But just as important is something that’s not quite as clearly stated: Yes, the hard thing is often the right thing. But, even so, we can’t go back to the way things were. The New York State Pavilion is never going to be the New York State Pavilion again, not the way it was. And maybe the fictional world will never fully recover from the fictional damage done to it in Tomorrowland. We can only keep dreaming, hoping and doing our best to make things better. In the end, that’s really all we have. What does any of this have to do with Disney? Well, for me, this spirit of hope and optimism is what Disney is all about.
Have you seen either of these films? Share your take in the comments below!