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Exclusive: Director Brad Bird Talks TOMORROWLAND, INCREDIBLES 2 and Pixar Trilogy

tomorrowland one sheetOn September 21, a press event was held at Disneyland for the in-home release of Tomorrowland (Oct.13). During the press event, I had the privilege to sit down with some of the cast and crew from the film including director Brad Bird. In this interview, Bird talks about the idea of ‘Tomorrowland,’ the future, ‘The Incredibles 2’ and Pixar.

Chris “The Scoop” Salce: ‘Tomorrowland’ is such vital part of Disneyland history. What kind of research did you have to do and how far back did you go?

Brad Bird: Well I was a fan of Walt Disney from a very early age and I read a lot of books about him, so I kind of knew several things going in. We were really more interested in connecting with a more abstract version of how Walt viewed the future. So we thought about if this character was young, what if that could have been something he would go to and we lit upon the idea of the World’s Fair. And we knew that Disney had several attractions at that World’s Fair. We thought that they would be a great way into Tomorrowland. One of the things that we researched was this utopian vision of the future was a feature of world fairs and we had hypothesized that Tesla, Edison, Verne and Eiffel had met at the World’s Fair in Paris, just before the turn of the century and that that started them forming this secret society of geniuses, and that they used world fairs as an opportunity to meet and compare notes about the future. World fairs used to have the function of people from all over the world, getting together and basically conveying and basically discussing their dreams for this future world. A lot of early developments like electricity and movies were previewed at these fairs. Then Damon [Lindelof], Jeff Jenson and I noticed that the positive vision of the future seemed to disappear around the time that world fairs disappeared. I don’t know if there’s a correlation but it’s interesting. So we thought of making the New York World’s Fair as kind of the jumping off point for the movie.

Chris: With this movie, what was the mood and feeling that you were going for and trying to capture, hoping the audience would get it?

Brad Bird: You know, you never really know how successful you’re going to be in bringing people over to the story that you want to tell them. Sometimes they go willingly and sometimes they don’t want to be told that story and they have another story in mind and I think that we were driven about this question about where did this positive vision of the future go and why did it go, and can we make sort of a modern fairytale about that question and put it in the context of a sort of simple popcorn movie.

(Left) Brad Bird, (right) Chris Salce

Chris: Tomorrowland had a very diverse and talented cast. You had George Clooney, Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key, Raffey Cassidy and more. It was a kind of cast that you don’t see too much of, how was it working with them? Did it make it easier being that they are all very talented?

Brad Bird: Easier?…Well, it made it exciting because they are all very imaginative people and they all have a lot of things going on in their minds, it was fun to work with them but it did not feel standard issue in any way.

Chris: There’s a lot of talk about ‘The Incredibles 2’ coming out, how excited are you to revisit that world?

Brad Bird: I loved working with those characters. It’s a big sort of popcorn movie but it’s strangely personal to me. So it’s kind of like bringing out your favorite play set and getting to play again. We’re having a good time.

Chris: What is your favorite ride here at Disneyland?

Brad Bird: Probably Pirates [of the Caribbean]. It’s very hard for me to disconnect it from the feeling I had from the first time I went through it. I could not figure out how you could enter a French quarter building, be in a Louisiana Bayou and the moonlight was fireflies and then go down a waterfall and be in a storm, then be in a battle between a ship and fort, be in a burning village and then come out and still be in a building. That just blew my little kid mind. A certain amount of me connects with that every time I see that ride.

Chris: Would you consider that as your ‘first Disney memory’?

Brad Bird: No, when I was a kid, Disney was still alive and so I had a multitude of Disney memories. He was a weekly presence and he would introduce the TV show. One week it would be a nature film and the next week it would be ‘The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh,’ and the next week would be ‘The Truth Behind Mother Goose Tales,’ which was odd, but it was all done with Disney animators and while that’s happening, movies like ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Jungle Book’ were happening. What it meant to me is that there was a job out there…this guy’s job is to do all this crazy stuff and just be in the middle of it, having a great time. I think he was kind of a workaholic and certainly driven but it really opened my eyes to that there are a lot of cool jobs out there in the world and that being an adult could be very exciting, cause I was kind of dreading it up to that point you know what I mean? (Laughs).

Chris: I totally get that. I do have an ‘Up’ question since you were around over at Pixar when it was made. It was one of the greatest loves stories of all time and it was all within the first ten or fifteen minutes, how did that idea come about?

Brad Bird: It was great and a very a risk taking opening. You would probably be better off asking Pete [Docter] whose idea it was. I would probably more talk about ‘Ratatouille,’ ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Up’ is a trilogy of really uncommercial sounding ideas that Wall Street initially hated…hated, hated, hated! And denounced as Pixar’s ‘sure to be first failure.’ Every single one of them. They left off about ‘Ratatouille’ about what in ‘God’s name is Pixar thinking? They’re doing a movie about a cooking rat in Paris. It’s like the trifecta of uncommercial death and why aren’t they doing another ‘Toy Story’ film?’ Then ‘Ratatouille’ came out and it did well and then they [Wall Street] went ‘Well okay, they dodged a bullet. And with the next film, they were saying ‘it’s a silent film with robots, that’s horrible and Pixar is going to fail!’ Then it came out and succeeded. They said the same thing about ‘Up.’ That one also turned out well. Now at no point will Wall Street ever go ‘You know what? We actually don’t know squat about movies. We only know about what’s already proven and every summer that’s laden with sequels is a good summer and every summer that has something that we haven’t heard of is a bad summer.’ The only thing that they finally got excited about is when we said we were doing ‘Toy Story 3.’ They said ‘That’s a great idea!’ It’s like you guys never would have ever made the first ‘Toy Story.’

Chris: That’s right. They just don’t like new ideas.

Brad Bird: They don’t like new ideas! So I was very proud of Pixar for having three films that would have scared the crap out of ever other studio and no other studio would have shoved their money to the center of the table and said ‘we’re betting on this.’ Those were all films that were pitched as original ideas and took a leap of faith to make happen. Pixar, God bless it, went all in. I think ‘Up’ is part of that and Pete [Docter] did it again with ‘Inside Out.’ It was a very risky idea and came off beautifully. God bless ‘Up,’ Pete and Pixar.

Stay tuned to Nuke the Fridge for an interview the young stars of Tomorrowland, Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson.