Tomorrowlandby Alex Stroup, staff writer
The commercials for Tomorrowland are asking, "What if there was a place, a secret place, where nothing was impossible…" This is proof that commercials lie. It turns out that the movie really doesn't make any effort to explore that question.
Instead, the question being answered is, "What if you learned that the Illuminati really is behind everything in the world, and rather than being upset by this, you're annoyed they won't let you join?"
Tomorrowland is primarily the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). A mechanical prodigy, Casey just knows how things work. She also indeterminately young, in that grey area between getting in trouble if she's caught sneaking back into the house in the middle of the night but old enough to just leave home for a couple days with no more than a voicemail for her dad saying she's going camping.
After being arrested during a late night of industrial sabotage intended to delay the looming job loss for her father (Tim McGraw), Casey discovers a mysterious pin among her returned possessions. Touching this pin, she is instantly transported to a new world—and back just as instantly when she lets go of the pin. Even more instantaneous than that though, is her acceptance that this must be a real place, and not that she's having some psychotic break with reality. Young minds, so malleable.
Official "Tomorrowland" movie trailer. © Walt Disney Pictures.
From there, the rush is on to learn how she got the pin, who the myserious person is that gave it to her, how to get back to Tomorrowland in a more permanent way, figure out why a group of smiling androids really wants to stop her, and finally, how to change the horrible dark side of things learned along the way.
This is Brad Bird's fifth feature film as writer and director. So far, each has been great—The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille are all major achievements in animation. Even when he moved to live action and took on a summer action franchise, he produced the best of the series with Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
That's a very high bar, so it doesn't mean Tomorrowland is a bad movie for being the least of them. That is the peril of unmet expectations, though; merely OK becomes a disappointment.
Tomorrowland is supposed to provoke wonder, but it's simply not present enough in the movie. As a result, as an audience member, you end up watching characters experience wonder without really feeling it. The 10-year-old version of Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson; played as an adult by George Clooney) gets a thrill flying around in a jetpack but we just watch, waiting for something to happen.
A big reason for this as that Tomorrowland is never really presented as a place with tangible existence, but mostly only in soaring and sweeping camera shots meant to present gee-whiz visuals like a Space Mountain replica, fancy monorail, or gravity-defying swimming pools. But it is all visual fluff with nothing offered as to what it would actually be like to live there.
Another problem is that, unfortunately, Britt Robertson isn't really up to the task of a lot of acting against green screens. In action sequences you can generally believe she is acting to a tennis ball on a stick. It is easy to envision a version of the movie where her character and storyline are removed completely without harming anything.
If that happened, then it would just be the story of Frank Walker and his friend Athena (played well by 12-year-old Raffey Cassidy). Athena's role in events will not be spoiled in explaining that thw two met when Frank was young and have since both been evicted from Tomorrowland. They'd still need to return to Tomorrowland so they can convince Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie, getting to remind Americans that he's British) to help avoid a terrible future.
Casey isn't really a critical part of any of that other than that having a young woman headlining a movie aimed pretty squarely at teens is better than a 54-year-old George Clooney.
After a slow start, once adult Frank joins the fun, things pick up speed towards an explosive climax that could have used a bit more grit if not for trying to stick with a PG rating.
Of meta-interest to the movie will be the renewed opportunity to speculate on Brad Bird's politics. It has often been commented on that his movies frequently have an element of saying that some people are born special, and that it would be great if normal people would get out of their way.
That's very much present here. Tomorrowland is a place created by geniuses so that they could do whatever they want without being bothered by normals. Nobody is shown working hard and earning their way in; just being naturally gifted. So expect to hear charges that Bird is a crypto-Objectivist to once again appear in various think pieces around the Internet.
This time, though, we also get laments about our society's inability to take collective action against shared threats as well as and unwilliness to trade short-term discomfort for long-term benefit. So expect to hear charges that Bird is a global warming alarmist trying to brainwash our children in various think pieces around the Internet.
A final note for Disneyland fans: It may be worth the price of admission just to get to see "it's a small world" returned to its original home at the 1964 World's Fair. And then you'll probably have a new accessory for your next ride, just in case something exciting will happen...
- Tomorrowland is a Walt Disney Pictures release
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, May 22, 2015
- Directed by Brad Bird
- Screenplay by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird
- Starring Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie
- Running time: 130 minutes
- Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language
- Alex's rating: 6 out of 10