CHICAGO – Tomorrowland is full of optimism, which at the end of the day hurts no one, but it also possesses the heavy hand of excess, in the sense that more story would have been favored over yet another CGI landscape. Director Brad Bird has his heart in the right place, and it’s a hopeful one, but the film needed more than just that, and less “animation of reality.”
Tomorrowland is also the latest film to be based on a Disneyland Theme Park presentation – after Pirates of the Caribbean – and combines the funky old school vision of the 1960s futuristics with the modern take on such a concept. The film seems to exist to give an old fashioned lesson, but that lesson is married to a CGI weirdness that is a bit unsettling, and it’s full of a golly-gee-whiz that is long past its prime. Yes, there will always be citizens and fellow travelers who have the right stuff, and will change the world, but that altitude is also tied to business and orofit, which tends to buy off those world changers. Those nasty thoughts aren’t present in Tomorrowland, which favors the wet part of the glass-half-full scenario. I enjoyed the hope – it was getting there that was bit sticky.
The film begins with a grizzled man named Frank (George Clooney), relating a story in terms of the doom-and-gloom of our modern times. A young woman named Casey (Britt Robertson) interrupts him in the midst of the tale, to remind him that she is a bit more optimistic than he is…and a flashback is presented that goes back to the New York World’s Fair of 1964.
The young Frank wants to participate in the fair (which means that Clooney is playing OLDER than his 54 years), and brings an invention to David Nix (get it?), played by Hugh Laurie, who summarily rejects the prototype. There is a mysterious girl by Nix’s side, named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who recruits Frank to the “other side,” a place that Casey will eventually go to as well, fueled by a magic badge that represents Tomorrowland.
So basically this is a concept in which the mystery of the magic “land” is multi-dimensional, and the recruits who go there intend to create a utopia. Laurie’s Nix is the downer here, and the engine of his naysaying is quite complex. This is one of those “explaining” movies, where the extreme computer-generated action sequences are punctuated by long explanations that have nothing to do with normal story telling, but everything to do with explaining what is going on.
Positively, the film does have a sense of wonder, and that is what saves some of those head scratching, “huh?” moments. Co-writer/director Brad Bird is a machine of hit-making, starting with The Incredibles in 2004, and following with Ratatouille (2007) and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011). He seems to want to tell everyone through Tomorrowland that you can do it too, if you believe in the power of optimism. Who doesn’t want to hear that? Not me.
The performances are as earnest as the premise, and the primary roles were well cast. Newcomers Britt Robinson (Ask Me Anything) and Raffey Cassidy are plucky Nancy-Drew type gals who won’t give up. I was most impressed that Robinson, who knew nothing about the multi-dimensional world before being sucked into it, took it in without screaming like an asylum dweller, but that wouldn’t do for optimism. Cassidy plays an inhabitant of the world with a perfect tenor, and it was impressive all the way to the end.
I’m intrigued with Clooney’s choice in taking on such a Disneyfied event. It was as odd as his turn in the Solaris remake. He was a gatekeeper in the film, and looked positively bizarre with a jet pack strapped to him, as he flew around like Buck Rogers. He was also one of the main explainers, basically the positive stuff, while the great Hugh Laurie was the emptiness of the glass-half-full. That is genius-level casting.
I’m recommending this one, because I certainly want to feel that the future belongs to the intrepid, and those who won’t take no for an answer, when dreaming of the better tomorrow. In due course, they will get their large salaries or royalties from their patents, and they will bog themselves down with material possessions, that won’t make them happy, and cynicism will creep in…wait a minute, I’ve gone off the hover track. Happy Tomorrowland!
Walt Disney Studios presents Tomorrowland, opening everywhere on May 22nd. Featuring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie, Keegan-Michael Key, Kathryn Hahn and Tim McGraw. Screenplay by Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof. Directed by Brad Bird. Rated “PG”