I never planned to write a sequel to Midlife Mouse. Really. Now that I’ve started writing one, I may have to start over.
As I started thinking about the characters and where they would be today, three years later, the ideas for a sequel began to take shape. Many questions were left unanswered at the end of the book, and those questions form the starting point for a follow-up story.
Over the last few months, I’ve made halting progress on the sequel, Midway Mouse. Beyond the five or six chapters that are already written, I have done a good deal of research and plotted out most of the story. At least I thought I had. As it turns out, I may have to scrap most (not all) of that work and start over. Why? Disney.
No, I haven’t been sued (though some of you out there seem to have a sick fascination with the possibility). What happened then? What happened was Disney began to develop a new film, Tomorrowland, and a related alternate reality game (ARG) called “The Optimist.” The story points, as we know them so far, are awfully similar to my planned plot for Midway Mouse. In fact, some of the story points are awfully similar to Midlife Mouse, too.
Before we go any further, if you haven’t read Midlife Mouse, consider this your obligatory
The story of Midway Mouse would have grown primarily out of this passage in Midlife Mouse. At the time I wrote this (2010), Disney was still planning a Tomorrowland film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As Bill Durmer is being tested by a group known as the Tomorrowlanders, he pitches this alternate idea for a Tomorrowland film:
Another questioner, a thirty-something man in the most current costume, gave Bill the lowdown on a planned Tomorrowland film starring a former professional wrestler as a modern astronaut who finds himself in a Utopian future. He wanted to know Bill’s thoughts on the film. “Well,” Bill began, scratching his chin, “I’d scrap the whole concept and start over.”
“Why?” the man asked.
Bill explained his belief that the drama — or more likely comedy — would arise from the conflict between the protagonist’s cynical view of humanity and the idealized future in which he finds himself, making the view of a better future seem a quaint joke, an unattainable pipe dream. “Besides,” he added, “Tomorrowland is not about attaining the future. It’s about always reaching for it.” More nods and whispers.
“What would you do?” Tomorrow Man asked.
Bill smiled at the older man’s leading question. In deconstructing the announced concept for the film, he had already begun to concoct his own. For a moment, he wondered if any of the Tomorrowlanders worked for the studio and were simply fishing for script ideas. How would he defend himself if they did steal his concept? Somehow he couldn’t imagine standing in front of a judge and trying to convince her that his copyrights were infringed upon by a secret group of Disney fans who called themselves the Tomorrowlanders, followed a man in fishbowl pajamas and believed Bill to be the Chosen One. That testimony would end only one way: with Bill in a padded room. But he decided to go for it.
“Well, assuming that the film needs to be created in the first place,” Bill began, questioning internally whether it did, “I’d start by changing the setting. Tomorrowland would be a place, but not a place in the future. It would be a community, sort of like Walt’s idea for Progress City, a place where the best minds could come together to invent and innovate. Maybe a private island. It would be owned by a reclusive scientist and inventor, Dr. Tom Morrow.” Bill had evoked the name, because he knew the PeopleMover audio once had a reference to a Mr. Tom Morrow, and he liked the cheekiness of it. This choice, however, elicited a chorus of gasps from his audience. He wasn’t sure what it meant, and no one bothered to explain. So he continued.
“Then you could borrow a page from the Pirates playbook and have two young protagonists, maybe teenage children of scientists who have come to work at Tomorrowland. They discover who Tom Morrow is and the three end up in some kind of an adventure, probably defending one of his inventions from outside forces. It should be something unique from what you see in the parks. Expand the mythology right from the get-go.”
“Like what?” The question came from one of the rank-and-file Tomorrowlanders in the outer circle, clearly a breach of etiquette since those in the inner circle scowled at his audacity.
Bill shrugged, indulging the question, “I don’t know… How about The Eden Bubble? A device that creates a bubble of space free from the purported effects of the biblical fall. Essentially a bubble that is free from brokenness. Nothing within the bubble will ever break down. Or die. Or decay. He sees it as an opportunity to advance medicine or test theoretical impossibilities. Others want to steal it for more nefarious purposes.
“I could see it as a trilogy. The first film ends with Dr. Morrow revealing to the young protagonists his next big thing: a building that houses a wormhole or a space-time bending device, allowing him to travel throughout the universe without ever leaving the building.”
“Space Mountain,” Tomorrow Man said, beaming at Bill like a proud father.
“Yeah, Space Mountain,” Bill confirmed. “The third film would involve Morrow’s efforts to take the ideas he and his team have perfected to the wider world and the powers that be trying not only to stop him, but to destroy Tomorrowland for good.” He shrugged, “That’s right off the top of my head, so it could certainly be developed further.” They all seemed quite satisfied.
As it turns out, Disney did, in fact, scrap the plans for that version of Tomorrowland and launched a new project built around the ideas of Walt’s hopeful futurism. (This is not the first idea mentioned by Bill Durmer in the book that has since come true, by the way.) The film is being written by LOST‘s Damon Lindelof and EW columnist Jeff Jensen, and being directed by Brad Bird. I’m a fan of all these guys, so I have high hopes for the film.
Midway Mouse would have had Bill discovering that his spitballed movie idea was closer to reality than he could have dreamed.
Let’s break down the similarities between Midlife Mouse/Midway Mouse and Tomorrowland/”The Optimist”:
- As we see above, in Midlife Mouse, Bill spitballs an idea about Tomorrowland being a real city of the future (not in the future) run by a reclusive scientist who must team up with two teenagers to save it from nefarious forces.
- Based on information known so far about Tomorrowland, the film, it will be about a real city of the future (perhaps in an alternate dimension) and a scientist who teams up with two teenagers to save it from nefarious forces.
- In Midlife Mouse, Bill discovers a secret organization (the Council of the Nine) that includes groups like the Tomorrowlanders and the Small World Society, who have ties to Disney’s work at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
- In “The Optimist” ARG, players discover a secret society with ties to Disney’s work at the ’64-65 World’s Fair.
- In Midway Mouse, Bill would have discovered that his father was part of an even more secret organization that had followed through with Walt’s plans to create Progress City, his original concept for EPCOT.
- In “The Optimist,” the fictional protagonist has learned that her grandfather was part of a secret society with Walt and that they may have had plans to make Progress City a reality.
- In the Mouse books, we have One-Eyed Jack, a living animatronic.
- In “The Optimist,” clues point to the idea that the animatronics created by Disney have intelligence and may be “more than they seem.”
- In Midlife Mouse (and even more so in Midway Mouse), One-Eyed Jack is referred to often as “the small man” or “little man.”
- In the Tomorrowland D23 app, the project to advance animatronics beyond what we see in the parks is called “Project Littleman.”
- In Midlife Mouse, there is a secret WEDway PeopleMover hidden within the PeopleMover ride enjoyed by millions of guests annually.
- In the Tomorrowland app, there are plans for a secret “ride within a ride” in It’s A Small World.
So, where does that leave me on Midway Mouse? The good news is that the first five or so chapters can remain. Where I go with the story from there will have to change, however. All of this speaks to the fact that Walt Disney left a unique legacy, and many people long to see his dream of EPCOT/Progress City become a reality. To move forward with Midway Mouse, and to be sure that the story is unique, I will need to rely less on actual Disney history and more upon the mythology established in the first book.
As a little teaser, here are some of the questions you should expect to fuel the storyline in Midway Mouse:
- Would the shareholders of a major corporation really allow an outsider to assume a major leadership position based solely on an alleged prophecy?
- Where is Bill Durmer three years later, and what is he doing?
- Despite the advanced (perhaps even futuristic) technology, how can One-Eyed Jack truly be alive?
- Who made Jack?
- How did the attractions that confirmed Bill as a candidate actually work?
- Was the system rigged in his favor?