Film Review – Tomorrowland
This film is difficult to talk about. Part of the charm and fun of the new Disney film Tomorrowland is the mystery surrounding it. The Disney marketing machine has done an admirable job of whetting the public’s appetite for this story without revealing much at all. And as the plot itself unfolds a big part of the charm of it concerns the slow reveal of it’s central mystery. There is a lot of fun to be had here for kids of a certain age. The youngest in the crowd might get antsy with the slow reveal of what’s going on. But for a tween crowd and especially kids who like to unravel a delicious mystery, Tomorrowland should connect like gangbusters.
Director Brad Bird has an impressive resume at this point of creating large spectacle with heart. The Iron Giant (one of the best animated movies of the last few decades), The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; he has given us a litany of hugely entertaining entertainment that involves quality. For creating Family Dog alone he will forever have a place in the pantheon of memorable creators. Tomorrowland may not be quite as strong as some of those previous works. But there is a lot of energy and imagination that is invested in what could have been just another commercial for the House of Mouse. In fact, in the ludicrous sub- genre of movies based on Disneyland attractions, this is definitely in the top two (I know, how could anything be better than the Country Bears movie?!). But this movie offers up a lot of family friendly fun and inspiration.
Again, I’ll keep dancing around the plot itself. Let’s just say the ingredients are: take a family friendly version of The Matrix (complete with overly polite inhuman bad guys in suits pursuing a young heroine who is THE ONE), stir in the prolonged buildup of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which spent more time on the lead up to where it was going than the actual encounter, sprinkle in small Disney in-jokes (Space Mountain features prominently in the skyline of the futuristic city that is teased throughout the film), spice with flying scenes reminiscent of the most fun parts of The Rocketeer, and blend with childlike imagination of a retro-future.
George Clooney adds gravitas as the grizzled broken-hearted scientist who knows the secrets of what’s behind the mysterious pin that our heroine Casey (Britt Robertson) gets ahold of. They spend a lot of their time running, and running, but they are both still able to add heart in the middle of all of the spectacle. Hugh Laurie is present for appropriate menace, though his outfit in the latter half of the movie would be more at home on The Jetsons than a logical extension of the future.
If I could give a separate rating to this movie’s intentions it would get an A+. It’s message plays as a call to action for the younger generation to work to enact positive change in the world. Tomorrowland champions science and intellect. And this is a rare film with a teenage girl as it’s protagonist who isn’t saddled with some hamfisted romantic triangle. This movie avoids a romance story for her at all. Because, god forbid, you can have a female protagonist that is interested in solving a puzzle because she’s smart and curious. Her hero is her former NASA scientist father. She understands engineering and how things work. She is sought after because she can solve problems. And the movie itself wants others to follow her example. There’s no more inspiring thought than is proffered here.
In fact, it’s enlightening that Tomorrowland was released in such close proximity to the new Mad Max movie. While Mad Max: Fury Road is all about a future where people are almost animalistic in their efforts to simply survive, fighting over scant resources with no hope in sight, this movie is all about aiming high to work for an achievably brighter future. Even a character in this movie makes reference to how stories of a bleak future have been used for our current entertainment.
Tomorrowland does become guilty of a bit of speechifying. It gets a bit blunt and direct about it’s message. But considering it’s audience, that’s mostly appropriate. This movie also almost comically square. It harkens back to the older Disney films when irony didn’t exist. But if you are receptive to it’s charms, this is a moving summer ride.