Ironman 2, Walt Disney and the Sherman Brothers

Over the weekend, I saw Ironman 2 and liked it in the empty-caloried way it was intended. Lots of cool computer interface stuff and explosions strung together with a very thin plot line. So, well, what is there not to like? I had to laugh, however, when I read Dave Winer’s review post, in which he wrote, “Just a bunch of talking and people riding in cars and planes, and hanging out in offices, and watching old movies. Sounds like what most of us do in an average week. So much for escapism. Okay one guy breaks out of prison. Big deal.”

So, I guess what’s not to like is this: If you’re going to a movie expecting an escapist action film with lots of empty-calories, you want lots of all that. Sorta, “more cowbell.”

ironman 2, stark

However, there was something about the movie that, aside from the explosions and stuff, did actually impress me. I was intrigued by its precision pastiche of Walt Disney, the man, and his talent for packaging futuristic predications into theatrical productions — perhaps, as Eric Larson suggests in his book The Devil in the White City, a legacy of the stories he heard from his father, who helped build the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Ironman 2’s references to Walt Disney are more tribute than parody. Anyone who grew up watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color will immediately recognize him in John Slattery’s performance of Tony Stark’s father, Howard. (Of course, in “real life,” Slattery is Roger Sterling of the Ad agency Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce.)

But there were even more nuanced references to Disney in Ironman 2 that I didn’t discover until doing some googling after seeing the film. For example, I didn’t know of the influence Disney had on the 1964 New York World’s Fair and how it served as a foundation for for aspects of Disneyland and, later, Disney World.

However, I did notice the obviously Disney-esque theme-park song used in the film called, “Make Way for Tomorrow Today.” (I’m referring to the closing credits Disneyesque version of the song, not the AC-DC-ized cheerleader version.)

Indeed, it sounded so Disney, I figured it was the song that played in the background of the Walt Disney World attraction, Carousel of Progress which, thanks to Google, I now know is named “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. And thanks to Wikipedia, I also now know that Carousel of Progress was an attraction at the 1964 World’s Fair.

In the film, the 1964 Worlds Fair is recast as the 1964 Stark Expo, but even the Flushing Meadows location and iconic Unisphere structure are referenced.

Displaying minute attention to detail in Ironman 2, the themepark-sounding song for the Stark Expo, “Make Way for Tomorrow Today,” was written and composed by Robert Sherman, half of the legendary Sherman Brothers song-writing team who wrote much of that Disney music that still loops in our brains, like, “It’s a Small World” and the score to Mary Poppins. Oh, and they wrote, It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”

It is, indeed, a small world, after all.

For a lavishly orchestrated version of “Make Way for Tomorrow Today,” visit the Ironman 2 tie-in website, and you’ll grow weary of it within 30 seconds, but it will get stuck in your head for the next 48 hours — sort of like every tune you hear at a Disney theme park.

So, in addition to explosions, planes and lots of people sitting around talking, Ironman 2 has some inside baseball Walt Disney stuff going on.

But still, it’s empty calories.