Brad Bird has been one of Disney’s best regarded directors of family-friendly films for more than a decade. His Pixar efforts The Incredibles and Ratatouille were critically acclaimed hits, and while his new live-action epic Tomorrowland has underperformed at the box office, it’s that rare blockbuster aimed at a PG-rated audience. Yet the artist he most consistently draws comparison to is one less associated with epicurean, anthropomorphized rats and more with the muscular endorsement of selfishness and unfettered ambition. In short, Internet theorists believe Bird’s oeuvre is a thinly veiled homage to Ayn Rand.
Critics have long made the connection between Bird and objectivism—the philosophy of rational self-interest espoused by Rand—because of the messages of individuality in his animated films. Then Tomorrowland came out and made it even easier to make the connection. The George Clooney-starring action adventure is overstuffed with plot, backstory, and visual flights of fancy, but its underlying story feels superficially similar to Rand's masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, beloved by many American conservatives and libertarians.
In Tomorrowland, the world's most innovative thinkers, artists, and scientists discover another dimension where they can build a utopia free of society's ills; eventually, convinced that humanity's downfall was imminent, they retreat there permanently, turning it into a veritable Galt's Gulch—a secluded community of anti-government capitalists in Atlas Shrugged. Bird has repeatedly denied that there's any political dimension to his work, and there's no reason not to believe him—but it's also clear that his favorite subject matter is the raging passion of a creative genius being constrained. And that's where things get tricky.