Spoiler Alert: this blog discusses many significant details of the movie plot. If you have not seen Tomorrowland, leave now.
When Linda and I watched the Disney movie Tomorrowland last night, we noticed a remarkable similarity to the story and characters of Peter Pan. It’s amazing how the writers managed to weave so much of Neverland into Tomorrowland.
- Tomorrowland is Neverland: Each exists in another dimension, reachable only through a magical flight. in Peter Pan, Wendy flies with Peter and Tinkerbell after being christened in pixie dust; in Tomorrowland, Casey flies with Frank and Athena. In preparation for their flight, Casey and Frank swallow dry sugar crystals (Peter’s pixie dust). People don’t age in Neverland; similarly, in Tomorrowland, Governor Nix has remained the same age by drinking a daily technology shake, implying that people don’t need to age in Tomorrowland.
- Frank Walker is Peter Pan: the boy who won’t grow up. Peter is a boy who flies, and refuses the responsibilities of adulthood; the young, optimistic Frank flies with his jet-pack, and rejects the pessimism of adulthood. Unlike Peter, Frank does leave Tomorrowland (Neverland), becomes disillusioned and grows up, but ultimately returns to his optimism inside Tomorrowland (Neverland).
- Frank’s house is Peter’s hideout: Frank and Peter each hide in a large, warren-like house; both hideouts have hidden entrances and exits. Peter and the lost boys live in a hideout in Neverland to escape detection by the pirates; Frank hides alone in his house to protect himself from Governor Nix’s murderous robots.
- Athena is Tinkerbell: Peter’s sidekick, immortal, young, feisty. Athena is an immortal robot; she is (eternally) young; she is miraculously skilled, a formidable fighter, and undaunted by anything. Tinkerbell’s relationship with Peter has overtones of an unfulfilled/impossible romantic relationship. In Peter Pan, Peter is the one who doesn’t reciprocate Tinkerbell’s feelings; in Tomorrowland, it’s Athena who doesn’t reciprocate Frank’s feelings. In Peter Pan, Tinkerbell drinks poison intended for Peter by Captain Hook, and nearly dies; in Tomorrowland, Athena blocks a blast from Governer Nix intended for Frank, killing herself.
- Casey Newton is Wendy: a girl enchanted by fairy tales, who Peter and Tinkerbell take to Neverland to be the mother of the lost boys. In Tomorrowland, Frank and Athena take Casey to Tomorrowland to heal/rejuvenate that land – that is, to be its mother. In Peter Pan, Wendy is enchanted by Peter’s magical world and wants to learn to fly; in Tomorrowland, Casey is enchanted by the stars and space flight, and wants to be an astronaut – to fly.
- Casey’s teachers are Nana: In Peter Pan, Nana is a dog-governess who attempts (unsuccessfully) to prevent Wendy from leaving home for Neverland; Casey’s teachers attempt (unsuccessfully) to prevent Casey from pursuing her optimistic dream of a positive future – a Tomorrowland.
- Nate Newton is Michael: Wendy’s youngest, infant-like brother. Nate is Casey’s young, infant-like brother. In Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, and John share a bedroom; in Tomorrowland, Casey and Nate share a bedroom. Unlike Michael, Nate doesn’t travel with Casey.
- Eddie Newton is John: Wendy’s slightly younger brother who tries to play the father, but always fails. In Tomorrowland, Nate is literally Casey’s father, who is failing in that role. Unlike John, Eddie doesn’t travel with Casey.
- David Nix is Captain Hook: Hook is a nihilistic adult who wishes to eliminate the Lost Boys and the other inhabitants of Neverland, who Peter battles and eventually kills; Nix is a nihilistic inventor who wishes to eliminate earth’s population, who Frank battles and eventually kills. Captain Hook has a very versatile hook in place of one hand; similarly, Nix wears a very versatile bracelet-control on one wrist. Nix’s costume later in the movie could be seen as steam-punk, but also refers to Captain Hook’s piratical overcoat.
- Nix’s robots are the Pirates: The Pirates are Hook’s minions, who carry out his murderous desires without question. Similarly, Nix’s robots carry out his murderous orders without question.
- The (unseen) other Tomorrowland inventors are the Lost Boys: the Lost Boys come to Neverland when they fall out of their baby carriages – that is, when they don’t fit into the ordinary world. Similarly, the inventors who populate Tomorrowland are geniuses who don’t fit into the ordinary world.
- The Monitor is the Crocodile: In Peter Pan, the crocodile that Peter enticed constantly pursues Hook; it represents Hook’s fear of destruction. In Tomorrowland, the Monitor that Frank created broadcasts the possible future of a dead earth, which Nix fears. The crocodile swallowed a clock, which enables Hook to know when the crocodile is near; the monitor broadcasts a countdown clock, which enables Nix to know how close the earth is to destruction. The crocodile kills Hook by eating him; the monitor kills Nix by falling on him. There’s also a bad pun hiding there: a monitor is a type of reptile, as is a crocodile.
The missing “I do believe in fairies” plot point
In the play of Peter Pan, as Tinkerbell lays dying from poison intended for Peter, Peter exhorts the audience members to save her by asserting “I do believe in fairies”. The audience crying out “I do believe in fairies” revives Tinkerbell. You might be tempted to feel there is no such scene in Tomorrowland: unlike Tinkerbell, Athena dies.
Yet there is an “I do believe in fairies” moment in Tomorrowland: at the end of the movie the audience is explicitly exhorted to believe in a positive future – to believe in the world that Athena (Tinkerbell) believed in, in order to bring that world to life.
The working title for the movie Tomorrowland was “1952”; Disney’s Peter Pan was released in 1953. Was the working title a reference to the 1952 production work on Disney’s Peter Pan?