Tomorrowland definitely went with the ‘less is more’ philosophy in promoting the movie. Practically nothing was revealed in all the trailers except George Clooney is going to play a crotchety old man who is also paranoid. You knew Brad Bird was directing and even though this is only his second live-action film (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocal), he’s had an incredible run with Pixar with The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
Tomorrowland is a secret place hidden in another dimension where humanity’s best and brightest live to dream and invent whatever they can imagine with no red tape or restraints. The plan was to one day unveil Tomorrowland as the hope for humanity. Of course, as what happens with all utopian societies, it goes sideways and now humanity is on the brink of destruction. The only hope for humanity is bright, mischievous, young teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) and Frank Walker (George Clooney).
Robertson and Clooney are perfect once they get on-screen together. The movie finally finds its footing when this happen. The problem? It takes an hour to get there. The back story and meandering path to get these two together seems to long and mostly unnecessary. With the film clocking in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there was a lot of editing that could have happened at the front of this film.
The movie is eye-candy heaven. Disney fans will be impressed with the homages to The Wheel of Progress and we finally learn why they have insisted on keeping It’s A Small World ride all these years. (By the way, Disney – I’d hoping to see those changes on the ride this summer.) There are plenty of subtle nods to Star Wars with props in the background as well.
The are two huge hiccups with Tomorrowland. First one being that it never locks down exactly how to tell the story. We actually see this in how the movie opens – with Walker and Newton arguing with each other as to who is going to narrate the story. Walker starts with his childhood, Newton starts with hers and besides the fact that having a narrator is complete B-rated film-making, the first act of the moving feels so disjointed and unnecessary.
Just throw us in the middle of the action and let us figure it out. There was enough action and dialogue in the second act that could have filled in the back story.
Eventually, the movie finds its legs with the chemistry between Walker, Newton and Athena, played brilliantly by Raffey Cassidy. It is part Three Musketeers, part National Treasure with no real villain to fight against. And that’s the second problem for the film.
MINOR SPOILER ALERT:
By the time we are introduced to the villain, he just doesn’t really command any kind of fear or intimidation. It’s almost like he was an afterthought. Of course, Disney villains can’t be completely ruthless or dark and this film didn’t call for that kind of villain either. But Governor Nix could have had a bit more edge to him and Hugh Laurie doesn’t get near enough time or leeway to pull off what he probably could have.
It’s a classic tale of an old, jaded cynic being redeemed and recharged by a young, bright-eyed optimist. It’s got a hopeful message and there is enough humor and action to keep most folks entertained, despite the laborious way they get to it. There isn’t enough action to justify full-price admission to the big-screen but there are plenty of moments that make a family trip to the matinée, most definitely it would be a good film for night in with the family.
**Spoiler Alert/Discussion Starters**
Philosophically the movie flirts around the central problem of human depravity. Tomorrowland was supposed to solve that problem and alas – it didn’t. It arguably made it worse with one of Frank Walker’s inventions. One line in the film captures the futility of it all – “You’ve got a world crisis with obesity AND malnutrition. Go figure that!” Just like the premise of all the Jurassic Park films – on the way of building this, they never stopped and asked should we. As it unfolds that knowledge and technology can’t in fact solve the human problem, it just moves on to the next futile solution – hope and dreamers.
But hope in what? Dreams of what? That technology can one day solve our problems? That we can one day create a utopian society that will last? As the final act unfolds, the answer we are given is that indeed Tomorrowland is possible and while it failed in the past, ‘we’ve learned our lesson.’ This time will be different because we have George Clooney running it.
The answer for humanity according to the film is to allow dreamers to explore. It’s noble but the reality is it’s been done and even that doesn’t work. It’s just more hubris of ‘we know what we are doing while our predecessors didn’t.’ No amount of technology or development can change the human heart. The film almost gets there – seeing Newton as the key and her heart of optimism as opposed to the cold, heartless cynicism of Walker. Instead, it falls just short and they end up repeating the sins of the generation before them in regards to building another Tomorrowland.
**End of Spoiler**