Based on a Disney attraction, à la Pirates of the Caribbean, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland has a similar sense of constructedness without the former’s base layer of whimsy. Just as Tomorrowland the experience—brainchild of founder Walt Disney—was to be an iterative blueprint of progress to come, Bird’s film paints a picture of an idealized future which has been spoiled and is in need of renewal.
The film weaves the connected strands of two stories: firstly, that of Frank Walker, a gifted child who as a boy in the 60s stumbles his way into this seemingly magical Tomorrowland, where the future has been grasped. Secondly, that of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) an equally gifted young lady from the present day who glimpses this same place by means of a mysterious pin she receives, only to discover (later) a reality at odds with the vision. Turns out the inventive young boy has grown up into Frank the cynical recluse (George Clooney) who, through Casey’s youthfully tenacious optimism rediscovers his hope for the future of humanity.
The film’s visual aesthetic is quite appealing with a range of interesting sci-fi designs and effects undergirded by the contrast of shade and grit in the world as we know it versus Tomorrowland’s bright architectured otherness. These differences are brought into stark relief in the sequences where Casey is instantly transported from the mundane now to the transcendent tomorrow via contact with the Tomorrowland pin.
Set against the apparent degradation of the modern world (as seen in globally distributed poverty, war, climate change, and natural disasters) Tomorrowland’s thesis of salvation through innovative optimism has difficulty finding narrative footing. Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof (of Lost ‘fame’) struggle to boil down their story to essentials, lapsing into extended periods of stodgy exposition which unhelpfully slow down proceedings when the film wants to find a livelier pace. Robertson and young British actress Raffey Cassidy (as ‘animatronic’ Tomorrowland recruiter Athena) do creditable work to provide much of the film’s heart in Casey’s dream chasing storyline. Conversely Clooney and Hugh Laurie (in an odd villain-but-not-villain role as Governor Nix) seem somewhat miscast—though perhaps this is as much a function of roles relegated to plot-explanation-puppets as it is misfit of actor to character.
Despite these problematic elements I can’t help but feel Tomorrowland actually does a decent job of appealing to its target audience (who I’d peg as 8-16yr olds?) The film finds the solutions to its story-world problems in the hearts and minds of the young, with the guiding hand of the experience where needed. The tone (if not the themes and plot mechanics) reminds me of significant (mainstream) films from my youth such as The Karate Kid and Back to the Future which also distill that sense of possibility and wonder, which age tends to dull. Whatever you make of the Tomorrowland’s politics—a gated utopian society of only the best and brightest anyone?—the inevitability of progress driven in the intoxicating possibility of youth is a theme you’ll find rings as true here as it does in, say, Mad Men. Tomorrowland may not hit all the notes but it mostly holds it tune.
Rating: PG Violence & coarse language.