Tomorrowland: The Stories We Tell Matter

I recently saw Disney’s Tomorrowland because nothing else looked better to me. A sad state of affairs for summertime cinema. As I anticipated, Tomorrowland had its share of problems, but the nice thing about going in with low expectations is the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. Overall, the film was a fun ride, and I was glad I went. The plot… of sorts… is tricky to explain, so I invite you to just watch the trailer before reading on.

The movie’s main problem is its overt moralizing (not a surprise to those familiar with director Brad Bird’s work), but the moral of the story is a good one nonetheless, and it has stuck with me over the past few weeks since seeing the film. Tomorrowland reminds us that the stories we tell matter because our words have creative power, quickly becoming self-fulfilling prophesy — for better or for worse.

Toward the beginning of the movie, we watch as Casey Newton sits stuck in classroom after classroom, from science to literature, that bemoans society’s ills: global warming, natural disasters, wars, crime, poverty, apathy. All the while, our hero raises her hand only to be ignored until finally one teacher stops his monologue long enough to call on her. When he does, she asks baldly, “How do we fix it?” “What?” the teacher stammers. “We know things are bad. How do we fix it?” The dumfounded teacher just stares perplexedly back at her until the bell rings, clearly caught off guard by this solution-oriented approach to the world.

The solution Disney offers, sadly, is pie-in-the-sky optimism and blind faith. Typical Disney. If negative news is a downward spiral of self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophesy, then putting a positive spin on things will reverse the curse. And there’s truth in that line of thinking. But something is missing. 

The problem with Disney’s solution is its in-the-sky optimism and its blind faith, not optimism and faith in and of themselves. What’s missing is a referent for faith and optimism (or we might use the word hope) — something real, something on-the-ground. Christianity claims that referent is Jesus, the Good Word made flesh. And yet, Christians are often the worst offenders of focusing on the sin instead of the Savior.

Disney is right, the stories we tell matter. How we interpret the world and the events of the world matters. For far too long we have rewarded the cynic and the critic with our accolades and attention. That attention is waning. People are tired of the incessant, self-righteous commentary of social criticism. It’s a shift represented in all avenues of pop culture, from Lego’s “Everything Is Awesome,” Pherell’s “Happy,” and Barak Obama’s “Yes we can!” to The Voice, Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kid President.

Of course, just as constant negativity is unsustainable, so too is positivity for positivity’s sake. Both must be grounded in Reality. As Christians, we believe the reality is that God created the world and it was good. Sin entered the world and spoiled everything: goodness distorted, the image of God disfigured but not destroyed. Jesus provides redemption through his death and resurrection and established his Church as ministers of reconciliation. This is our job — in the power of the Holy Spirit, until Christ returns to banish evil once and for all so that all creation can be restored to unmitigated good.

What if we focused on this vision of a hope for today and faith for the future? What if we saw with eyes of faith beyond the crumbling ruins to the original creational glory and the promise of restoration? What if we meant it when we prayed “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? After 2000-plus years of fear- and guilt-mongering morality plays, sinners in the hands of an angry God, and fire and brimstone, you’d think we’d know better.

“Seek and you shall find,” Jesus tells us. And it’s true. If we look for him, we will find him. Everywhere and in everything. If we merely look for ways to criticize, if we simply look for weaknesses to exploit, if we only look for ills to bemoan, we will find them in abundance until they pile up over our heads and block out the sun.

The critic is puffed up, but the child knows the Father’s love and shares it freely.

With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right; Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.1