Tribeca: Brad Bird Shows 'Tomorrowland' Clip, Defends Tom Cruise As Janeane Garofalo Jokes About Scientology

Deborah Coleman/Pixar
Brad Bird

The filmmaker behind 'Ratatouille,' 'The Incredibles,' 'Mission: Impossible –Ghost Protocol' and this summer's George Clooney-starring sci-fi movie also talked about the challenges and rewards of making big-budget live-action films.

Brad Bird gave New Yorkers a glimpse at the Tomorrowland clip that's playing at the Disney parks preview for the film but hasn't yet officially appeared online, debuting a few minutes of his highly-anticipated, George Clooney-starring sci-fi film at the Tribeca Film Festival.

During his hour-long chat with Janeane Garofalo, who lent her voice to Bird's Ratatouille, the filmmaker behind The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland talked about transitioning from animated to live-action films. He also talked about the concept of Tomorrowland, without revealing much about the secretive movie. And he revealed what it was like making his live-action directorial debut on a big budget franchise film like Ghost Protocol, defending star Tom Cruise and his dedication to moviemaking as Garofalo joked about Scientology. He also explained that he had to convince Peter O'Toole to give animation a shot with Ratatouille.

The Tomorrowland clip Bird debuted appears to be a part of the not-yet-officially-online preview that's playing at Disneyland and EPCOT. The clip consists entirely of scenes from the 1964 World's Fair portion of the movie, which has been mostly left out of the Tomorrowland trailers. In it, the kid version of George Clooney's character Frank Walker goes to the fair with a big backpack containing a jetpack he made. He presents it to Hugh Laurie's character in hopes of winning a $50 prize. The only problem is that the jetpack "doesn't really technically fly," Frank sheepishly says as the audience sees him trying it out and getting dragged around a field. Laurie's character asks, if it did work, how would the jetpack "make the world a better place."

"Can't it just be fun?" Frank says.

Laurie's character replies, "Mr. Walker, please tell me you can do better than fun."

"Anything's possible," the kid says. "If I was walking down the street and I saw somebody with a jetpack flying over me, I'd believe that anything's possible. I'd be inspired. Doesn't that make the world a better place?"

Laurie concedes that it would, but since the jetpack doesn't work, "it has no purpose at all."

Frank vows to make it work as he recalls how his father has told him he's wasting his time trying to do so. The clip also introduces Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who takes an instant liking to Frank and follows him outside and slips him the Tomorrowland pin.

Frank: "Who are you?"

Athena: "I'm the future, Frank Walker."

After the clip aired, Bird repeated some of what he's said previously about the film, that it's based on the optimistic vision of the future that used to be how people perceived what's to come.

"It kind of came out of these conversations I had with Damon Lindelof who produced [Tomorrowland] and co-wrote the script with me and had the original idea," Bird explained. "We started saying, you know, 'What happened to the future?' When we were kids the future seemed to always be this bright, bigger thing, and the world was still a dark place back then; there were a lot of bad things happening everywhere. But there was a lot of optimism about the future, and we started going, 'Why did that disappear?' — because if you ask people now, generally the point of view is the future's going to stink, and it's not going to be good, and we're probably doomed and everybody's kind of resigned to it. And we kind of went, 'Why is that? What changed?' I mean the world's still got problems, but it had them back then, too. Why did the future change?"

Bird also talked about his past, specifically how he got involved with animation and his work on Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Oddly, there was little discussion of arguably his most beloved film, The Incredibles, or the planned follow-up.

During the Ghost Protocol conversation, Garofalo illustrated how Alex Gibney's Going Clear documentary may have further associated Tom Cruise with Scientology in people's minds. Bird defended Cruise's dedication to filmmaking explaining that the actor "trains for each stunt so he is peaking for what that particular stunt needs on that particular day. He takes it really seriously, and that's why he can do things like climb the Burj Khalifa and do it and look effortless about it. He takes it really seriously."

With that, Garofalo said, "Thank you, L.R.H."

Bird called her mention of the initials of Scientology's founder L. Ron Hubbard, whom she addressed later when she said she thought Cruise's performance in Tropic Thunder was "over the top" ("No offense, L.R.H."), a "very inside reference."

Garofalo insisted, "Not anymore…that documentary…wooo…Going Clear…we could talk about that all day."

Bird said that both Cruise and Ghost Protocol producer J.J. Abrams supported him and allowed him to carry out his vision for the film even though it also had to fit into the Mission: Impossible series.

"Both of them were interested in me doing my own thing, so I was kind protected in a way and I was supported when I wanted to do something different," he said. "It wasn't like I was against the world. I had those guys providing a little dome of protection." In fact, he said that the team behind the film let him do five of the six things he wanted to do in a spy film. "They didn't keep me from doing the sixth one, it's that the story didn't allow an opportunity for it," he said. "We had a skeleton that we were fixed to, but within that we could improvise and change things a lot."

Later Bird declined to reveal what the sixth thing was, saying he still wants to try to work it into a future film, and thus didn't want to "give up the idea."

He did concede that Ghost Protocol was "a rough one to go in as my first live-action film."

"It was like being thrown into the deep end of a very shark-infested pool in terms of how big the set pieces were," he said. "They were big and they were complicated, and you had to get a lot of moving parts to work together."

He also indicated that he had to fight a bit to maintain his vision in post-production.

"Sometimes you have to bark a little to get people to step back because sometimes people start to fret a little when the amount of money is that high," he said.

Bird said he enjoys making big-budget, live-action films and would like to do more "if it's interesting."

"They're hard but what's fun is it's big canvas stuff and you get to, if you have a crazy big idea, you have the resources to make it happen," he explained. "That's not to say that its easy, but you can do it on a grand scale that when you see it on a giant screen, that's fun. I love both [animation and live-action] and I have certain ways that I like to tell stories."

Garofalo and Bird also looked back at their work together in Ratatouille, and Bird explained how he had to convince Peter O'Toole to lend his voice to the role of Anton Ego.

"[He] said, (taking on a snobby tone) 'Oh no, I don't know. I don't really do animation — 10 years ago, 15 years ago, I did some sort of Nutcracker thing.' As if it were a piece of lint," Bird recalled, miming picking lint off his sleeve. "So I had to kind of woo him a little bit. I said, 'No, you're going to love it. It's a weird part. He really dominates the film when he's in it.' And I think he kind of came around to it. And then he ended up having a great time."

As for Bird's own future, he said he still wants to make his long-in-the-works San Francisco earthquake live-action film 1906 and would love to make a western and a musical, among the other genres he'd like to try.

"What you are trying to figure out is what you would do that's different than what's been done and which films you're inspired by and which ones you want to stay away from," he said. "Like I have certain westerns that I love and certain westerns I'm like, 'meh.' The ones that stick are the ones that ultimately influence you."

He also said he wanted to see an animated "balls-out horror movie."

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