Tomorrowland

by Alex Stroup, staff writer
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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.


© Walt Disney Pictures.

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.


© Walt Disney Pictures.

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.


© Walt Disney Pictures.

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.


© Walt Disney Pictures.

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...


© Walt Disney Pictures.


  • 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


Tomorrowland. © Walt Disney Pictures.

 

Comments

  1. By CONNCR

    I saw the midnight showing of the movie... While I enjoyed it, in particular the World's Fair portion, there was a lot of "preaching", not very much action, and it seemed more like a good TV pilot than summer action movie. To me, the first 2/3rds of the film could have been condensed without loosing much, it would have gotten us to Tomorrowland that much sooner to really explore the reason all this was happening. For my Disney geek side, I really liked the film; for the film buff side, the story seemed lacking and slow. The effects were great, the acting was acceptable (Raffey Cassidy as Athena is wonderful!). The movie is worth watching... but perhaps not worth the midnight showing on opening day.

    conncr

  2. By Jimbo996

    "So expect to hear charges that Bird is a global warming alarmist trying to brainwash our children in various think pieces around the Internet."

    You wrote that as if this charge is incorrect. It would be clear that this is the obvious conclusion from watching it. Your forewarning tells you more about "Brad Bird's politics" than you try so hard to disprove. Nonetheless, this doesn't take away the entertainment value of the movie. I always regarded Walt Disney's original ideas about EPCOT to be statist and quite idealist. Disney ended up being a big corporation with leftist leanings. Such dichotomy.

  3. By Klutch

    I had high hopes for this movie. I'm somewhat disappointed the reviews are less than glowing. I'm also wondering if perhaps this film, like "The Rocketeer" will improve with age. When "The Rocketeer" was released, the reviews were mixed at best and it kind of flopped at the box office. I really liked the movie and it has become one of my favorite films. Interestingly, it seems more people have started to appreciate "The Rocketeer" as the years go by.

  4. By Alex S.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    "Your forewarning tells you more about "Brad Bird's politics" than you try so hard to disprove.

    I made no effort whatsoever to prove or disprove anything about Brad Bird's politics.

    I simply pointed out that if people wanted to attribute elements of the movie to being indicative of Brad Bird's politics, then they could do so. And you should expect to see it done.

    Personally, while I definitely think you can see Objectivist themes as well as urging action on climate change in the movie I have no idea if those reflect Brad Bird's personal politics. It is entirely possible to imbue fiction with messages and themes with which you don't agree. Especially if you think they make for better storytelling. For example, much of the action genre of filmmaking endorses a form of vigitlanism; I suspect almost everybody involved with making them would philosophically reject same for the real world.

    But even if he personally believes we need to take action on global warming (a not unlikely scenario) and put it in the movie solely to promote that (a more unlikely scenario), I'd say it is still a stretch to say he is attempting to brainwash our children. Except insofar as espousing any idea is an attempt to convince others of its correctness.

  5. By Boundyman

    When I saw the commercial, it looked to weird to me that I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. But I decided to see it and wasn't too disappointed. In fact, I found it inspiring. But I do have to agree the film has some flaws. If I made the film, this is how I would have changed it.

    The Entrance to Tomorrowland is a ride like Space Mountain or Spaceship Earth rather than Its A Small World.

    When Casey touches the pin she just stand still in the real world rather than moves that causes her to bump into walls.

    Athena is not a robot, but a person who actually lives in Tomorrowland.

    Governor Nix I thought was too nice and likeable, I would portray him as more evil, like enslaving the inhabitants of Tomorrowland rather than trying to warn Earth the wrong way.

    NASA isn't dismantling any launch pad, so why portray it in the movie?

    Have Casey start out as someone who thinks she is nothing, her dad sees potential in her and takes her to meet Frank, who takes her to Tomorrowland which changes her mind.

  6. By GusMan

    Im going to be honest... I normally dont agree with most movie reviews for some reason. Though for this movie, I would say that I sided with Alex most of the way.

    I may cross-post my blog with my review shortly, but overall, I found the movie very entertaining and enjoyable, but it was not what I expected given the trailers.

  7. By Chewyswimmer

    NASA isn't dismantling any launch pad, so why portray it in the movie?

    Sure looked like it to me when I was there in the beginning of April. There was a lot of construction work going on. Total dismantling, no, but they are definitely repurposing the launch pad that was used for the Space Shuttles. They have "sold" the pad to Boeing, Lockheed, Space X, or one of those companies and are building a large storage building at the base of the pad.

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    I greatly enjoyed the movie. I did not have high expectations going into the film, and thought it was a good popcorn flick. I did enjoy all of the nods to Disney attractions throughout the movie. The monorail, space mountain, spaceship earth, It's a small world.

    I agree with most people about the pace being too slow in the beginning. You gave us a glimpse and take way too long to get us back to Tomorrowland.

  8. By xezat

    I thought the movie was...ok. My best impression was, it's about as vague as the commercial and trailer suggests. Despite story telling normally being a strong point of Disney, it falls flat for me here, kinda half baked at best. It had good ideas and some decent sequences, but didn't really execute the other stuff well. I probably wouldn't have gone with Clooney for the old bitter man archetype either. The fact all the robots explode was kinda weird too, I mean why would you want recruiting ones like Athena blowing up even? Fairly high body count as well with all the disentigrations (this is supposed to be a peaceful advanced society with exploding robots and ray guns?). Just seems a bit too at odds with their message, along with the rest of the inconsistencies.

    Wouldn't really recommend spending to watch in theaters, but it's good for a rental or catching it on TV.

  9. By Alex S.

    I've seen a few people say they like the message of the film or were inspired for it. I'm curious what people are seeing as the message? (Not judging, just curious.)

    To me, what the movie seems to be saying is "wouldn't it be great if all the great minds of the world got together and made a fantastic planet just for themselves and didn't waste time trying to fix our world."

    Sure, it is great that

     
    Clooney and team stopped the genius world from actively messing up our world, but then they just went back skimming the best minds and refocusing them on Tomorrowland. That guy doing great work against poaching in Africa? Is Africa better for him being in Tomorrowland?



    Also, why are recruiters children? I know we're unobservant but eventually someone is going to wonder about that 12-year-old driving up I-59.

  10. By LtPowers

    Quote Originally Posted by Alex S. View Post
    To me, what the movie seems to be saying is "wouldn't it be great if all the great minds of the world got together and made a fantastic planet just for themselves and didn't waste time trying to fix our world."

    That's precisely the mistake Nix made. He gave up on the 'real' world because he saw the rest of humanity as hopeless. The idea behind Tomorrowland, and the idea to which Frank and Casey are trying to return it, is that great minds can only do great work if they're unencumbered by political and financial restrictions.

    The intent by Plus Ultra was always to return Tomorrowland's discoveries to the 'real' world. We never quite find out whether that ever happened -- and if it didn't, why not.


    Powers &8^]

  11. By Gone2Disneyland

    I see it as LtPowers does as well. And I see choosing children as recruiters over adults as just something to play to the kids and teens in the audience than any dig at adult judgment.

    I went in with high expectations and was a bit let down. I still enjoyed it tho' and plan to see it again in theatres, hoping I'll like it more during a 2nd viewing. I've been describing the film to friends who haven't seen it yet as the kind of movies Disney made in the 70's like Escape from Witch Mountain. Not the best storytelling but engaging enough in that Disney way to be entertained.

    I saw it on the Thursday of opening weekend, at a Regal Cinema so I could score me one of these promotional Tomorrowland movie E-Tickets.

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  12. By carolinakid

    It's definitely underperforming at the box office.

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