A world beyond space and time
Merely a week after the thrilling chase across the wasteland in Mad Max: Fury Road, Walt Disney Pictures’ newest film, Tomorrowland, asks its viewer to not accept an apocalyptic future by working hard today to make tomorrow a brighter possibility. Unfortunately, that’s most of what the film has to say beyond a latent subplot involving an android’s ability to love. The film has global appeal with state-of-the-art CGI from ILM, Hybride, Rodeo FX, and Whiskytree, but offers little plot, action, or suspense as it gets very caught up in its own message. That isn’t to say that hard work and saving the planet aren’t noble, necessary pursuits, but Tomorrowland mistakenly relies on preaching a brighter tomorrow as film narrative.
Director Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Ratatouille) helms only his second live-action film—his worst to date. Tomorrowland has an optimistic viewpoint and terrific scenery, but lacks the heart and characterization of Bird’s earlier endeavors like The Iron Giant or The Incredibles. However, this isn’t the first time Disney produced a film loosely-based on an attraction that audiences and critics panned if one recalls The Haunted Mansion in 2003 or The Country Bears in 2002. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise remains the lone success story here. Bird certainly makes the viewer feel like a better future is waiting, but only arrives there through outstanding visual effects as the plot progression and character development carry little inspiration beyond the idea that a robot can love a person.
Academy Award winner George Clooney (The Monuments Men, Gravity) headlines the film as Frank, a bitter, aging man with the know-how to get himself and the picture’s protagonist to an advanced realm where the world’s brightest, most inventive and creative people gather to propel civilization and usher in the future with optimism. Frank once lived there as a boy until the powers that be banished him. Clooney brings more to the table than his trademark charm and smug grin, becoming the film’s most interesting character. We’ve seen the actor in a campy Batcave and now we catch him in a trippy doomsday room located in a house that seems to be one big robot trap. What makes him so bitter? Why did he ever leave Tomorrowland? Why are toothy robots the bad guys? The answers are easier than a viewer would care to guess after a few scenes.
Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride, “Under the Dome”) stars as Casey, an idealistic teenager with a penchant for science who finds a mysterious pin among her effects upon checking out of jail after a night of sabotaging some equipment at Cape Canaveral to save her father’s (played by country music performer Tim McGraw) job. After she touches the pin, Casey sees a completely different world: a brighter sun, abundant crops, breathtaking architecture, and advances in technology decades beyond 2015. When she sneaks away from home to find out more about the pin, Casey embarks on a journey far beyond the one she expected to take: Texas, New York, Paris, and the future. Beyond her optimism, Britt doesn’t add much else to the film beyond offsetting Frank’s negativity. These two characters are such polar opposites that a sitcom isn’t beyond reason.
After hoping for another family-oriented adventure with heart and thrills like Super 8 or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Tomorrowland comes off as just another effects-laden spectacle from Walt Disney Pictures along the lines of John Carter and The Lone Ranger, but with a more merciful runtime. Clooney and Robertson lead a film that perpetually asks its viewers to never give up on what’s ahead for the planet. In a single monologue, the villain explains everything that’s wrong with the world as if to finally reveal why one should give up hope. This monologue only verifies what we’ve been subject to for not only the entire film, but real life, as well. Tomorrowland either doesn’t give its audience enough credit or it indicts them, but either way, the film ultimately never serves the glimmer of hope it intended to convey.