Saturday, 25 April 2015

Tomorrowland: Origins of Plus Ultra Easter Eggs

This past week, Disney released a pair of animated videos explaining the origins of the mysterious "Plus Ultra" organization featured in the upcoming movie Tomorrowland. Originally slated to appear in the film itself - presumably in a scene set in the 1964-65 New York World's Fair - it was cut from final edit for time and posted online. The following are a few Easter Eggs we noticed while watching.

First of all, of course, is the style of the cartoon. It is very much in line with the "Tomorrowland" episodes of the Walt Disney's Disneyland television series: Man in Space, Man and the Moon, Mars and Beyond, Magic Highway USA, and Our Friend the Atom. The following scene is even a direct homage to a scene from Our Friend the Atom...

Scene from The Origins of Plus Ultra
Comparable scene from Our Friend the Atom.

The short was narrated by Maurice LaMarche, most famous for giving his voice to The Brain of Pinky and the Brain and Animaniacs. In this he is likely trying to channel the spirit of Orson Welles, who he also portrayed satirically in Animaniacs. Welles achieved notoriety for his 1939 radio performance of The War of the Worlds, which purportedly convinced America that martians actually were attacking. In reality, only a relatively small segment of the radio-listening public who didn't hear the show's introduction thought that an invasion was actually happening, and they assumed it was an invasion by the Nazis, as the Second World War had already begun in Europe. Nevertheless, Welles was one of the first to test the public's credulity of mass broadcast media.

"Since the dawn of recorded history,
mankind has boldly pursued its destiny...

In our next scene we catch a glimpse of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, France. The Eiffel Tower was originally constructed for this Exposition as a temporary monument. But floating around the Eiffel Tower is a rather obscure Disney reference: the Hyperion airship from Island at the Top of the World. In the 1974 film, it was built by a French aeronaut and employed by a British industrial magnate to search for his lost son in the far Canadian Arctic where a colony of Vikings have survived to the Edwardian Era. It is more frequently seen today in the entryway to the CafĂ© Hyperion at Disneyland Paris. It is also an Easter Egg in The Great Mouse Detective, acting as Ratigan's dirigible.

The Hyperion in The Origins of Plus Ultra.

The Hyperion in Island at the Top of the World.
Model of the Hyperion at Disneyland Paris.

Cafe Hyperion, Disneyland Paris.
Ratigan's "Hyperion" pursues Basil.

According to the video, the Eiffel Tower hosted an illustrious gathering of learned Victorian men who founded Plus Ultra: Thomas Edison, Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, and Nikola Tesla. I'm not convinced that four Victorian men would come up with a name for their organization that sounds like a brand of laundry detergent, but I'll let that rest.

A little less forgivable is how Tesla and Edison carried on one of the great scientific rivalries of all time. The main contention between them was electricity, the so-called "War of the Currents." Edison (top) backed Direct Current while Tesla (bottom) back Alternating Current. Of course, the mythology of their conflict has built up over time, and this Forbes article does a good job of dispelling some of them. This page from the U.S. Department of Energy gives a good overview of their considerable accomplishments. 

Gustave Eiffel is best known for the tower that bears his name. He was already an architect and engineer of renown before constructing the Eiffel Tower, including the design of the Statue of Liberty three years before the Exposition. France's gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States is commemorated at Disneyland Paris in the Liberty Arcade that runs behind Main Street USA. His long list of credits count numerous bridges, viaducts, gasworks, cathedrals, theatres, hotels, and train stations. Whether or not Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla were there, Eiffel did host Thomas Edison in his offices at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Mannequins replicate this scene in those same offices.

Edison meets Eiffel.

As evidenced by this short, Tomorrowland is going to appeal to the myth of Jules Verne as a technological optimist who was just shy of being an inventor himself. Verne, of course, is the author of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, In Search of the Castaways, From the Earth to the Moon, and Journey to the Center of the Earth, each of which have been made into films, rides, or both by Disney. Due in no small part to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Disney has largely been responsible for creating the image of Verne as a technological optimist. I will discuss this at greater depth in a future series of articles, but for the time being, suffice it to say that Verne had a keenly observant mind that didn't always like what it saw about humanity. He was still a deeply humane writer - for example he could never bring himself to unleash the kind of devastation on humanity that H.G. Wells practically salivated at - but grew weary and increasingly cynical in his old age. Here we get the Disney version of Verne, complete with Harper Goff's design of the Nautilus.

In the offices of Plus Ultra, the film shows an army of draughtsmen (and women) hard at work making plans for Progress City... er, Tomorrowland. Dan Jeup, animator of this sequence, acknowledges that two of the engineers are references to Imagineers Mary Blair and Marc Davis. Blair's attraction It's a Small World will feature prominently in Tomorrowland

Silhouettes of Mary Blair (left) and Marc Davis (right corner).
Mary Blair.
Marc Davis.

And one last reference for the Disneyphiles... Did you catch Space Mountain in the model of Tomorrowland? That is a nice reference but actually isn't new, since it had also been spotted in the official movie trailers.

Are there any other Easter Eggs you noticed? Leave a comment below!


  1. This is article is great! Love the videos and can't wait to see the movie. Not sure if it's an easter egg but the shot at the very beginning of the second video reminds me of this wonderful imagineer concept art

    1. It does have that air about it, doesn't it? Thanks for posting!

  2. Plus Ultra means "Further beyond". The Before Tomorrowland novel describes Verne having coined the name for the same reasons Charles V did described up here: