Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof (screenplay), Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen (story)
Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Thomas Robinson
What if there was a place where all the geniuses and dreamers of the world could come together to create everything they’ve ever wanted to create, free from red tape and bureaucratic nonsense? Would we get the ultimate utopia or would it just be a complete mess of half-baked ideas and conflicting pursuits? Ironically, Disney’s Tomorrowland provides unintentional proof that perhaps the latter might be the case, even as it doggedly attempts to convince us of the former.
Within Hollywood, director Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof are geniuses and dreamers of the highest order, and when it was announced that they were coming together to make a top secret sci-fi movie for Disney, the project seemed to have limitless potential. To their credit, the movie they have produced is indeed a unique one in the blockbuster landscape, full of optimism and hope. Unfortunately, most of its ideas are either unclear or far too simplistic to apply in the real world, and the result is an uneven family retro-futuristic adventure that eventually just gets old.
Inspired by the futuristic theme park land that launched at Disneyland in 1955, Tomorrowland revolves around former boy-genius inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) and idealistic teenage girl Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who are on a quest to save the world from imminent destruction. Of course, there is a lot of set up before they get there, starting with a flashback to Walker as a young boy, attempting to win a contest at the 1964 World’s Fair with a home-made jet pack. A mysterious British girl invites him to a secret underground city full of scientific marvels, and then we jump ahead to Newton as a teenager, who finds herself coming into possession of a strange pin that can transport her to that very same city. It turns out they both have business there, but there are forces conspiring to prevent their arrival.
This leads to some propulsive chase scenes and action sequences, which are exciting enough for a while. Brad Bird’s direction is characteristically strong, full of comedic touches and whimsy (the jet pack flashback is particularly great). There is a definite Men in Black feel at times, especially with one particular scene that takes place at a collectible store run by Kathryn Hahn and Key from Key & Peele. The idea of this secret world hiding beneath our normal world is an intriguing one, at least until we learn more about it.
Once Clooney finally enters the picture (probably about halfway through, not counting his framing narration), things get weighed down by a lot of exposition and the film’s two hour and ten minute running time slowly starts to fill out. This might have been okay if the revelations were illuminating, but in classic Damon Lindelof fashion, the answers only raise more questions. It’s not that the movie is vague on purpose, it’s just that the more we find out about the origin and purpose of Tomorrowland, the less sense it makes. There is an elitist bent to the whole thing, and although Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix is presented as a villain, the end of the movie still seems to support most of what he believes in.
In the end, the filmmakers hope to blind you to any of the missing details by beating you over the head with the message that as long as you don’t give up hope and stay positive, you can fix the world. Which may sound nice, but let’s face it, it feels pretty insulting and simplistic when you’re talking about the reality of what’s happening to our planet currently. The final act as a whole is unsatisfying, and for a movie that claims to be about ideas, there is still a lot of dumb action going on.
The cast is decent but not great. Britt Robertson has previously appeared in Under the Dome and Scream 4 (among other things), and while her character is another strong female role model (we’ve been getting a lot of those lately) there are large stretches of the movie where it feels like she is just screaming and reacting to stuff. George Clooney turns off a lot of his usual charm, which while appropriate, may be off-putting for some. The idea of him being a grown man but still holding on to the same feelings he had as a kid also seems weird. The emotional beats of his character don’t entirely work and I almost wonder if they would have been better off just keeping the child actor in the lead role.
When it is at its best, Tomorrowland offers some high-energy thrills along with some imaginative visuals and inventions (multi-level mid-air swimming pools? I’m in). It celebrates the power of the human mind and it reminds us that once upon the time we used to see the future as a beautiful place as opposed to a wasteland or dystopia. Still, like most idealistic fantasies, it starts to fall apart the more time you spend with it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort… but it does make it a bit of a disappointment. — Sean