This dream team disappoints with ‘Tomorrowland’Movie Review, Section 4A Thursday, May 28th, 2015
I think I am supposed to be perturbed that Tomorrowland only exists because Disney realized that the theme park attraction of the same name had even greater profit potential as a feature film. But bashing Disney for synergistic money mongering is lazy, mostly because that’s what Disney has always done. Most of the time, they make buckets of money by doing it artfully; I cannot begrudge (the first) Pirates of the Caribbean, Cinderella, or the upcoming live action Beauty and the Beast. And despite how weirdly limp Tomorrowland is, I cannot begrudge its themes and its message, which are hopeful and almost inspiring. The problem is the mismatch between Disney’s desired audience and the intents of the artists they hired to draw those kids in.
Disney did create a dream team for the film: Brad Bird, directed The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of Lost; Jeff Jensen, the sci-fi journalist and scholar; and Claudio Miranda, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Life of Pi. They created an intriguing way to fictionalize the park attraction. The 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, famous for its futurism and space-age architecture that has been used for many a sci-fi film (most famously Men in Black), is actually a front for a cabal of the world’s greatest scientists. Frank Walker, a boy genius (Thomas Robinson), brings his homemade jetpack to show the judges of an invention contest. He’s dismissed by its haughty leader Nix (Hugh Laurie), but a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) takes an interest and gives him a pin and tells him to follow them onto a ride. He’s transported to another dimension where all of the future fantasies of the fair are real.
Fifty years later, a teenage girl named Casey (a wonderful Britt Robertson) receives a pin that transports her, seemingly, to this same place. In her intrepid quest to discover its origin, she meets Athena and then an older, bitter Frank (now George Clooney, phoning it in), who had been exiled from Tomorrowland. Athena tells Frank that Casey may be able to save them all from a mysterious and cataclysmic problem that Nix and others created. Pursued by murderous androids, Frank, Casey and Athena make their way across space time to save the world.
The first half of the film is clearly inspired, visually and thematically, by Stephen Spielberg’s early films, in particular Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, and the action is breezy, the jokes light, the characters easily endearing, and the audience joins little Frank and Casey in their awe and wonder. I laughed several times and I enjoyed several scenes, particularly those around Casey and Frank’s meeting and their battle with the androids. But, oddly, once they all end up in Tomorrowland, the film becomes a slog. Partly, this is because Hugh Laurie’s Nix is about as sinister as a hedgehog, and partly it’s the corporate need to make Tomorrowland look and feel like Disney’s Tomorrowland, all smooth edges and dull pastels. This is a Jetsons future, and in 2015, that’s just lame.
Spoiler alert: The coming apocalypse, it turns out, is brought on by society’s pessimism of the future. Dreamers like Casey can save us all. Nix’s speech and Casey’s response are pretty awesome as text, but they are also preachy and not reflected in the film’s action. The tension of the end of the world is barely shown, just narrated, just abstracted. The violence, fear, and doom that would make the stakes feel as high as they are described are not there. The film is so family friendly that it makes sure the kids aren’t scared, but it also makes the adults not care.
Directed by Brad Bird
Written by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird
Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy
At your local multiplex
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