'Star Wars' saved us from a Space Mountain franchise
It was four short years ago that Disney tightened their grip on our collective pop culture nostalgia. Having already secured Marvel Entertainment, the House of Mouse turned their all-seeing eye to Lucasfilm. On October 30, 2012 the acquisition announcement was made and the rest is now history.
At the time fans were leery of the purchase, worried that Star Wars would become sanitized to bring in the all-mighty dollar of the preschool set. But while those fears have since been laid to rest with the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the merger wasn’t without its hiccups and casualties. One of them being an untitled sci-fi project by Max Landis, who was riding high off on the buzz Chronicle back in early 2012. First reported by Variety in January of 2012, the space adventure was axed as being “too similar” once they had Star Wars in their pocket.
SlashFilm brought this tidbit to light again today as part of their exploration of the multiple space adventures films Star Wars sidelined. Which got me thinking about the Disney sci-fi adventure that DID happen: Tomorrowland. Perhaps the death of the Space Mountain movie franchise was a blessing in disguise. At one point, Landis released the log line for the film and it sounds familiar:
Space Mountain – Set in a retro 1950s version of the future, a young man must travel across a solar system in the wake of a terrible disaster, unravelling a mystery as he searches for his lost sister.
In 2012, Disney already had another ‘retro 1950s’ film in the works in Tomorrowland. First announced under the title 1952 by Deadline in 2011, the Disney project by Damon Lindelof also wanted to capitalize on Disney’s iconic theme parks. Unfortunately for the mouse house, Tomorrowland wasn’t well-loved by critics and stumbled hard enough at the box office to put the kibosh on any future sequels. There are many reasons a summer tent-pole can underperform, but in the case of Tomorrowland, the dour tone and preachy third act didn’t help word of mouth.
If audiences came in hoping for an upbeat future-past look at humanity, or callbacks to the heyday of Disney television animation like this deleted scene…
…they were instead treated to a Tomorrowland whose brightest days were behind it, leaving the city a darkened shell of its former self. When the in-film promotional materials are the most optimistic, that’s bleak outlook for any future, much less one being peddled as family-friendly summer movie fare. When working on the project, director Brad Bird mused to The L.A. Times, “When Damon and I were first talking about the project, we were wondering why people's once-bright notions about the future gradually seemed to disappear.” That sense of ‘what happened’ seeped into the final cut and, in this author’s opinion, poisoned the entire film.
That’s not to say Max Landis’ Space Mountain project would’ve had the same grim tone. His work on Superman: American Alien shows Landis is more than capable of baking existential questions into an upbeat story. But working with a behemoth like Disney means lots of oversight and lots of notes. Tomorrowland was already a year into production when Space Mountain was greenlit — and the former had shoutouts to the ride in it. There’s no proof Space Mountain would’ve been a Möbius Strip sequel to Tomorrowland, falling chronologically before the fall of the city of tomorrow. But it would definitely be in Disney’s M.O. to tie their films together into a franchise. Who knows, in an alternate timeline perhaps the events of Space Mountain are the cause of the mysterious ‘end of the world’ vision in Tomorrowland. It’d make as much sense as anything else in that third act.
I suggest that in the end, Star Wars saved us from Space Mountain. Because for every Pirates of the Caribbean, there are The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion, and Tower of Terror. In the world of gambling, those are bad odds. Personally, I’d much rather live in a world where Space Mountain has been re-skinned with a Star Wars theme than one where the legacy of the iconic ride is more tarnished than it already is.