Monday, May 25, 2015


Brad Bird's TOMORROWLAND is a film which is saturated in Disney lore. Not only is it heavily inspired by Mr. Walt Disney's imaginative designs for the future, but its style embraces his famed studio's golden age of live-action/hybrids where adventure, whimsy, optimism, and a sense of wonder are always up-front-and-center. That is the gift-wrap Bird is giving us, but what lies beneath that is another matter...

Casey (Britt Robertson), is given a mysterious pin by the mysterious child Athena (Raffey Cassidy), which transports her to another dimension with a futuristic city called Tomorrowland. When Casey realizes that she was given the pin for a specific purpose, she seeks out the help of Frank (George Clooney), who once lived in Tomorrowland as a youth…which is now overseen by Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). 

After a wonderful prologue with a stunning recreation of the 1964 World's Fair which sets up Frank's backstory, TOMORROWLAND fast-forwards to the present day and shifts over to Casey and her journey to discover exactly why she was chosen. As her and Athena, and eventually Frank, make their way from one place to another, the film unravels as a series of mysteries to solve. One question leads to an answer which opens up even more. It's a little repetitive but for the most part it works. Director Brad Bird taps into a fun element of wonder as he uncovers and introduces more mysteries, aided by some fantastic set-pieces (including an antique toy shop and the Eiffel Tower), and a crowd-pleasing touch with a satisfying sense of nostalgia. 

Where TOMORROWLAND goes off the monorail is in the final half-hour. Great lengths are taken to establish that there is a great doom coming to our world, and only Casey's unique sense of imagination and optimism can save people from their demise...but then the film solves everything by a final battle which involves boxing robots, fistfights, and throwing bombs around with the intent of blowing shit up. It's a lazy way out, and is a direct contradiction to the overall message of the film which preaches intelligence and imagination to solve problems. On top of that, Casey winds up taking a back seat to Frank in the final act; hinting that the writers weren't quite sure who the main character was supposed to be. 

There is still a lot to enjoy in TOMORROWLAND. Director Brad Bird keeps the pacing tight, and the action/chase scenes are a thrill. The design of Tomorrowland itself (again, inspired by Walt's original plans) is a joy to see on the big screen. Bird taps into an old-fashioned vibe which includes robots, jet-packs, spaceships, and ray-guns...and there is a constant sense of comfortable familiarity. 

George Clooney brings his best to the table and musters up a surprising amount of emotion. The only hitch to his performance is his character is written as a bitter and grumpy old man, but Clooney’s natural charisma and charm make it a hard sell; it seems not even Clooney can overcome the Clooney Charm. The real revelation of the film is teen actress Britt Robertson, who displays every required bit of emotion and does a fine job in making us care about the character. Child actress Raffey Cassidy is also excellent, and Hugh Laurie is superb.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about TOMORROWLAND is despite the rocketship-ride atmosphere, there is a lot established with characters and places which are never brought back full-circle by movie's end; meaning, the film raises a thousand questions and only answers half of them. Couple that with the incredibly stupid final act which flies in the face of the movie’s overall message and TOMORROWLAND becomes a spaceship which lands with a splat after a roaring takeoff. This is a case where the gift-wrapping is nicer than the gift. 


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