Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is quite an affecting effort for a film inspired by a sub-theme of a theme park (the Space Mountain roller coaster is even featured in the movie’s poster).
Its better qualities speak more of Bird’s ability to spin an earnest yarn than the workings of the corporate giant behind it, but let’s give Disney its due: Tomorrowland wouldn’t be Tomorrowland without Tomorrow Land.
From back in the days of The Wonderful World Of Disney on TV, an anthology show made up of segments inspired by each of Disneyland’s “themed lands”, I remember how the Tomorrow Land portions would amaze me with awe-inspiring scientific breakthroughs and talk of a future where anything was possible.
Stuff to stoke the imagination, surely, from a time when science and technology were not taken for granted by people who have more computing power in their pants pockets these days than was used to send Apollo 11 to the Moon. (Just think, your selfie-sharing today could have put a satellite in orbit back then. Well, sort of.)
And don’t we wonder, today, where that bright shining future has gone? Where are the flying cars, the personal jetpacks, the miracle foods, the conquest of disease, the harmony of shared purpose, the betterment of humanity? We know where; we’re just not comfortable saying it out loud.
Tomorrowland is the kind of film made for dreamers who find it tough holding on to those dreams in the face of pressing concerns, who are barely coping with the burden of ... coping.
It wears its wishful, wistful heart on its sleeve, a trait that would not sit well with the less starry-eyed; but don’t worry, the movie has an explanation for the hog-wallow of cynicism that we’re all, erm, wallowing in these days. It even has a theory on why we love the idea of a zombie apocalypse so much, heh.
Tomorrowland is part road-trip/adventure, part sci-fi thriller and part mystery. It’s about two people who are drawn to an amazing place called Tomorrowland. A little boy named Frank (Thomas Robinson) has actually been there; many years later, a teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson) finds herself mysteriously drawn to it, but can’t find a way in.
By the time their characters meet, the boy has become a (grumpy) man who has let his inner dreamer take a long nap. But there is a reason why Casey is being drawn there, and the stakes for humanity are high.
George Clooney plays the grownup Frank, and he has an easy chemistry with Robertson; both give winning performances. There’s a third party in the equation, a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who is connected to both characters. And hunting all three of them are some freakish, grinning robots that are willing to kill to protect the secrets of Tomorrowland.
When it’s finally revealed, the larger game that’s afoot is a bit of a letdown, because it exposes some well-worn motives at the heart of things. Well-worn, because we’ve already seen two similar situations unfold in major movies this year.
Up to its Big Reveal, Tomorrowland is a wonderful and wacky ride that will leave you breathless from the pace at which Bird’s excited direction propels things forward.
Along the way, it suggests the kind of wonders humanity could achieve if people were more in synch. You might be saying, heck, we have a monstrous amount of synch-ing to do to achieve any kind of wonder these days. Tomorrowland has a theory about that, too – one tied to the Cherokee legend about the two wolves that are at war within each person.
Its third-act fumble aside, this is clearly a film that has its heart in the right place, as far as being true to its roots is concerned. Like those Tomorrow Land TV segments of old, it is inspiring; enough to rekindle anyone’s waning sense of wonder.
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson