'Tomorrowland': D23 blows the lid off Disney sci-fi saga's 'mystery box'

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Image Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

What’s in the box?

For months, ever since Disney revealed that its upcoming, epic sci-fi saga would be called Tomorrowland, the studio has teased fans with the contents of an archived box containing a hodgepodge of mysterious items.

On Saturday at D23, Disney’s Comic-Con-like fan gathering, director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof opened it before thousands of onlookers.

Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney, has only been shooting for two days, so there wasn’t much in the way of footage, or Clooney sightings. Instead, the pair joked, we get a “dusty old box.”

The contents of the container, allegedly from the Walt Disney archives, was said to have inspired the story, which was co-written by Bird, Lindelof, and EW’s own Jeff Jensen. Among the items: a photo of Disney sitting on the wing of a plane with Amelia Earhart, which was dated years after her disappearance in 1939.

They acknowledged it was a fraud, showing the original image with Earhart and Cary Grant, as well as the vintage photo of Disney used to place his head over the actor’s. But why does the photo exist? That’s part of the game they are playing with audiences as production for the December 2014 movie is under way.

There were other objects pulled out and displayed from the box, including a copy of an August 1928 edition of Amazing Stories magazine, which included a coded message — but written by whom? And why?

The filmmakers unveiled an app that allows everyone to explore the box on its own, and try their hand at unraveling its mysteries. It’s meant to mimic a museum presentation, with audio commentary (narrated by Jensen) and analysis  of its various hidden messages.

“It felt like somebody put all the stuff in this box for some reason,” said Lindelof in a short film previewing the presentation and celebrating Walt Disney as a futurist.

Among the other objects in the “dusty old box” was a laser disc with a scratched-up film — a short animated documentary about the evolution of human progress.  It seemed like the kind of propaganda commercial that would celebrate great thinkers like Tesla and Einstein, but quickly turned dark as it posited a world where all innovations would turn to weaponry and functions of either war or corporate greed. After showing a cityscape burned due to a nuclear bomb, the narrator says there is a team “working in secret, freed from the corruption of money, to create a tomorrow that we will not fear, but one we will aspire to. At long last we are building that tomorrow.” It sounds a little mid-century utopian, but, who knows? Maybe they were onto something.

Is any of this real? Well, Disneyland is real…in its way.

(Contributing: Anthony Breznican)

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