Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair (High Maintenance) Talk Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland

The creators of the best damn web series out there get a glimpse of Disney's fantastical (and rather dark) vision of the future.

[Warning: Contains Spoilers]

Ben: So, what’d you think? I thought it felt like a Orwellian “tomorrowland” when we had to check our phones in the lobby.

Katja: Ha! I was surprised. I didn’t really know what to expect, because I’d only seen that teaser trailer, but it was a lot goofier than I thought it would be. And also darker. And featuring an awkward B-story wherein George Clooney’s character can’t get over a crush he had when he was 10 years old. Awkward mostly because his crush has remained a 10-year-old.

Ben: (dramatically) He was burned! George Clooney’s character, Frank, gets burned by this robot girl, who leads him to Tomorrowland as a boy at the World’s Fair, and then time passes, and he lives in Tomorrowland, developing and inventing new machines and technologies. And then we jump 40 years on: at Cape Canaveral, the same young girl (who hasn’t aged since the ’60s) takes a young, optimistic teenager, Casey, to Tomorrowland. I don’t know — it felt like being on a Disney ride.

Katja: Speaking of which, I was really delighted by Brad Bird’s use of It’s a Small World and how he worked that and the ’64 New York World’s Fair into the origin story. I love that ride. Big-time nostalgia vibes. You know I used to go to Disneyland on the regular as a teen?

Ben: With your Christian posse from the O.C.?

Katja: You know it, baby. People from back there really like to talk about how they saw No Doubt at the Tomorrowland Terrace before they were famous. It’s like the modern-day equivalent of those old dudes who brag about seeing the Beatles in Hamburg before they were famous. P.S. — My dad is totally that guy. But you know, he did see them in Hamburg before they were famous.

Ben: You know, you go to Tomorrowland at Disneyland, and it’s like they have all these big ideas there. There’s the monorail thing, where you wait a long time in line and the “waiting in line experience” is kind of the ride, where they talk about the future from the point of view of the 1950s and 1960s.

Katja: I appreciated that Brad Bird made a point about that particular vision of the future being very dated.

Ben: Because it is based on that section of the theme park, there was not an Ariel or a Simba — a humanoid or animal character — who was gonna lead the thing. The film didn’t have a protagonist.

Katja: You don’t think so?

Ben: Well, the protagonist was Tomorrowland, it was the place.

Katja: What? It had human protagonists as well.

Ben: No, I mean the story played out and had characters and all that stuff, but when you try to evoke the character from Tomorrowland, it’s a place. It’s not based on, like, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. No kid is gonna dress up as “Tomorrowland” for Halloween.

Katja: No, but they can dress up as Casey. Is that her name? I found Casey to be a refreshing replacement for a Disney princess.

Ben: Who’s gonna dress up as Casey? If you dress up as Casey, you dress up as Jennifer Lawrence.

Katja: She was not Jennifer Lawrence! That’s Britt Robertson.

Ben: I know, but she looks and dresses exactly like J. Law in Winter’s Bone or whatever, except she has a Cape Canaveral hat. Anyway, I was only trying to say that I’m surprised at the absence of an “easily brandable” character…

Katja: There’s that robot girl!

Ben: How are you gonna dress like that robot girl for Halloween? You can dress like a character from The Incredibles, but you can’t dress like a robot girl who just looks like a girl with big eyes.

Katja: I guess not. Anyway… can we talk about all the violence?

Ben: There was a lot of recognition of the fact that the world is a bad place at the moment. He didn’t shy away from the problems that are endemic to our times. And there were a lot of guns.

Katja: Yes, that’s what I was getting at. There were a lot of killings and beheadings and whatnot, but it was always treated with a laugh. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but I was just like, “Whoa!” All these tiny children in this theater are, like, busting a gut over people getting destroyed. Well, whatever. They were robots. Who cares if they die? Katja, they’re not humans.

Ben: It felt more like a superhero movie than a traditional Disney movie for much of the time. I also respond to Brad Bird’s animations more because I think his writing works particularly well with animated actors. Does that make sense?

Katja: Yeah. But I thought he did a really good job of incorporating that feeling of an animated feature — even in the live-action stuff, like the blocking and the camera moves. Those elements all felt like they came straight from a cartoon.

Ben: Sure. Yes.

Katja: I thought he did a nice job of making the professional transition between those two media, but I hear you. It’s a Disney movie, and everybody sounds a little theatrical in those movies. Still, I felt like these actors were pretty grounded. Good casting. The hokiest characters were the villains.

Ben: Keegan-Michael Key.

Katja: Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn! Yes. I do love those people.

Ben: You know what’s so funny is that Keegan-Michael Key came out and I was like, “Good for Jason Mantzoukas — he’s working so much!”

Katja: That’s so weird, honey. Too many…

Ben: Too many hilarious olive-complexioned men to keep track of?

Katja: (laughs) No, I was just gonna say too many weed gummies before the movie.

Ben: Ah, yes. We had some weed gummies. Fine. I love when the robots are coming for George Clooney and he’s gotta basically destroy his own house to save himself, and he goes, “OH, HELL. OH HELLLLL!

Katja: I fucking lost it, because “Oh hell” is definitely what you’re saying while defending your life and all your worldly possessions.

Ben: OH HELL!” And I liked how when that robot died you were like, “Ooohhh heelllll.

Katja: Like I was powering down.

Ben: I also thought the casting of the younger kid was great — I’m like, “Yeah, totally, young George Clooney.”

Katja: Yeah, the young version of George Clooney’s character, Frank. He was pretty remarkable actually. That kid’s got something.

Ben: Right? And he straight-up looked like George Clooney.

Katja: He really did.

Ben: And his dad in the movie was Sobotka, Frank Sobotka. So basically we have Frank, Jr., and Frank, Sr., of Tomorrowland.

Katja: That’s a fun connection that you made there, man. I think that kid was really good, buuuut I had a little bit of viewer confusion because they cast a similar-looking kid to play Casey’s brother. Casey’s brother. Ha! Like that Tim and Eric character. Anyway, that kid looked too much like the kid playing little Frank, and I thought that was a problem. I mean, couldn’t they put some Sun-In in his hair or something?

Ben: Disney must have some sort of machine that they put kids through to give them that certain type of Disney quality. That is such a specific acting style. What do you think they do? Do they go to a boot camp?

Katja: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a brand. A very consistent brand.

Ben: I will say I imagined Disney being like, OK, Brad Bird, go to Tomorrowland and figure out what this movie is about. And then he was probably looking at his Twitter in line for Space Mountain and reading all the terrible things that are going on in the world, and he was like, Well, this really what tomorrow looks like, but shit, Disney’s paying me all this dough to make a movie, and it’s gotta be upbeat. Uh, well, I guess I’ll just use it as a tool to inspire others to make tomorrow better? Because daayum, this is gonna be a tough one.

Katja: Maybe he just watches a lot of Vice News, like we do.

Ben: House (Hugh Laurie)’s character in Tomorrowland is based on Shane Smith.

Katja: Definitely.

Ben: It’s more of a Rupert Murdoch character, actually. It was funny that he went down by the transporter falling on his leg because it’s like, “And that’s why he has that limp when he’s a doctor.”

Katja: Oh my god. We gotta stop.


Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, a married filmmaking duo, created the web series High Maintenance, which they write, direct, and produce together. It has been praised by the likes of The New Yorker, The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone. Blichfeld received an Emmy for her work in casting (30 Rock, 2013). Sinclair stars in High Maintenance, which was recently picked up by HBO for a six-episode run. (Photo by Cameron Marshad)