I’m sitting in an Orlando area restaurant having dinner when I receive a text message that reads, “Think I might get some chili tonight for dinner.” It’s from Jeremiah Daws, one of our Disneyland reporters, and he has left me wondering if he meant to message someone else with this seemingly trivial information. But after I confusingly reply, he clarifies by writing back “Chili John’s? #theoptimist” and my interest is immediately piqued.
For those playing Disney’s alternate reality game The Optimist, this unusual exchange is entirely normal, as the game’s characters can drop hints about the next move on any day, at any time. This time, it was DisneyCartography.com owner Wallace (a fictional person) who posted a new piece of Walt Disney-themed artwork to his site:
The game was on.
It’s been ten days since my last recap of the world of The Optimist, a game that’s gone viral all in promotion of Disney’s upcoming film “Tomorrowland” starring George Clooney. Of course, Disney hasn’t actually explicitly said that’s what the game is all about, but it’s pretty clear given the story ties to Disney’s past, particularly the World’s Fair, and sci-fi notions of cryogenics, teleportation, and retro-futuristic forms of energy.
Ten days ago, Jeremiah found himself at the Tam O’Shanter, a Los Angeles area restaurant that Walt Disney and his earliest Imagineers frequented decades ago. And while clues were found there, lead character Amelia was promising to send out records to a select few people who were helping her solve the mysteries of her late grandfather Carlos on her blog and via Twitter.
Upon returning from San Diego Comic-Con, I found at my front door a square white box marked FRAGILE and addressed to “Resident Optimist.” That’s me.
Inside, it was indeed one of Amelia’s grandfather’s s records from the 1964-65 World’s Fair featuring the classic Sherman brothers song, “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.” But nothing in The Optimist is as it seems. This record was special. Watch the video below for an unboxing and reveal of the mysterious message hidden on it.
Video: Amelia’s record opened and played for The Optimist
The record was sneakily double grooved, not only featuring toe-tapping music but also a pair of secret narrations. Not only that, but the odd spacing of the narration preceded by three beeps indicated that it was meant to be synchronized with something. In this case, it matched up perfectly with the Carousel of Progress at Walt Disney World, the first involvement of Disney’s parks in Orlando for this game. The video above matches up the audio found on side 1 of the record with the attraction, supplementing its story with that of The Optimist, cleverly working in new dialogue to bend the meaning behind the show’s words.
Likewise, side 2 features a more consistent narration, one that seemingly matches up with a Disneyland railroad ride between the Tomorrowland and Main Street stations. Both the Carousel of Progress and that stretch of railroad featuring the Primeval World scenes are direct connections to the World’s Fair, which this story surrounds.
But what does it all mean? What are all these talks of new energy, forms of transportation, and other yet-to-be-invented technologies? Could they have been secretly created behind the scenes 50 years ago at the World’s Fair by Disney’s animators, artists, and Imagineers? It seems those are the questions that “Tomorrowland” will answer when it’s released in December 2014.
In the meantime, fans will continue to unravel the mystery, much as they did today at Disneyland – which brings us back to Wallace’s artwork.
The piece pictured above is called “Walt’s Haunts,” depicting a few of Walt Disney’s favorite places. But each also offers a clue to something new for The Optimist.
Jeremiah quickly picked up on one familiar spot located just 5 minutes from his home. Chili John’s. So while I quietly ate dinner with my wife in Orlando, Jeremiah darted out the door to decipher the game’s next clue.
Wallace’s artwork reads, “Get your chili with a side of ‘pinto beans’ to go.” When Jeremiah did just that, he was not only given the delicious chili dog he ordered, but also a mystery bag.
Inside was Chili John’s canned chili featuring artwork that looked strikingly similar to Wallace’s own style. Listed among the ingredients: Optimism.
Upon arriving home, Jeremiah opened the can only to find an “EYES ONLY” message dated 7/17/66 – Disneyland’s 11th birthday. The time? 14:01:00 – the street address of Walt Disney Imagineering on Flower Street in Glendale, Calif. The message? An assignment to “befriend” faculty at university’s like MIT, Caltech, or Carnegie Mellon. The purpose? Unknown.
Similar messages are still hidden at more of Walt’s haunts including the carousel at Griffith Park and barn at Carolwood. But those would have to wait as the depiction of a “Grand Courtyard” was dated with today’s date, 7/26, also listing a specific time: 8:15 – 8:20am. Any Disney fan will immediately recognize the winding staircase as being located in New Orleans Square at Disneyland.
Armed with this information, Jeremiah set out for Disneyland early this morning not knowing who or what he would find. A group of around 20 fans gathered at the Grand Courtyard awaiting the 8:15am time.
The following events ensued.
Video: The Optimist takes fans through New Orleans Square
Everyone received timed entry cards, the first small group asked to return at 8:30am.
The park’s jazz band appeared on the stage for a brief performance of “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”
After that, the group was led into Club 33, the private restaurant upstairs – quite the surprise. Once inside, the phone rang and Jeremiah answered.
(Video still from Hastin’s live stream of the event.)
On the phone was Wallace, who allowed the group to ask a question. When asked about his connection to The Optimist story, he noted he shares a vision for the future and that we are closer to that future than we think. He then pointed everyone to search for clues around Club 33, revealing a series of glasses featuring initials and symbols representing historical figures as well as a crest featuring the words “Cras es noster,” which translates to “The future is ours.”
The list of initials connects to Nikola Tesla, Samuel Clemens, HG Wells, August Eiffel, Jules Verne, and Amelia Earhart, among others. Wallace noted that there are many clues to be found throughout the park, leading players to continue the hunt beyond the morning’s events.
Leaving the Disneyland hunt for the moment, Jeremiah ventured on to another location on the artwork: the Griffith Park carousel. This is the location where Walt Disney dreamed up Disneyland, wanting to create a place where adults could have fun with their children instead of watching them from a nearby bench.
But in the world of The Optimist, this was more than a trip through Disney history. Upon finding the “last dark horse” to ride, Jeremiah discovered a secret message.
Video: Griffith Park carousel secret message for The Optimist
A strap featured a seemingly random series of letters across its length. But when wrapped around the pole it revealed a hidden message.
The message reads, “We each play a role at building tomorrow. Remember our goal to forge a brighter path for the future and keep the world going round.”
Looking back at Wallace’s artwork, there are still two more places for players to visit on the list: The red barn at Carolwood will be open on Sunday, July 28 for 4 hours beginning at 11am and a familiar bench dated August 1, which may lead players into Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and perhaps even in to Walt’s apartment above the firehouse.
And then there’s the matter of making some sense of all of this.
The Optimist will culminate in a grand finale at the D23 Expo, which begins just two weeks from today. Wallace says he’ll be there. And so will many players eager to find out how it all ends.
Want to join in? Need to catch up? Have something to share? Solve a mystery? Check out our collaborate Google Doc summarizing all the events of The Optimist.