“Tomorrowland” Movie Review

    The Brad Bird and George Clooney collaboration, “Tomorrowland”, is at times solid and whimsical filmmaking that succeeds in providing the kind of escapist entertainment summer audiences crave this time of year.  By the time the film arrives to the third act; however, the fun comes to a halt and is replaced with an obvious and preachy message that plays along a series of convoluted story lines.  While more mature movie goers may appreciate screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird’s attempt to make a smarter and meaningful film, mainstream audiences, particularly kids, likely won’t approve of the final product.  Bird, whose previous efforts include “The Incredibles” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, has created a rich and detailed vision for “Tomorrowland” that has plenty of original thinking as well as several cues to the actual area of Disneyland that inspires it.  Of course, a solid production design can only take you so far as it’s about half way through the film that the wow factor begins to wear off and you realize the filmmakers are trying to tell you something whether you like it or not.

     The film opens with a one of those vintage sequences Hollywood is becoming really good at creating these days.  A young boy named Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) arrives at the 1964 World Fair with his latest invention in hand, a self propelled jet pack that he believes will be the winner in the annual competition.  Unfortunately, his jet pack flies less like the airplanes it aspires to be and more like the title character in “The Greatest American Hero”.  The judge at the fair, Nix (Hugh Laurie), tells Frank to try again next year, but his daughter, Athena (Raffey Cassidy) sees something in Frank and decides to give him entrance into a secret parallel world called Tomorrowland.

     This parallel world is based on the utopian future the late Walt Disney frequently spoke of and were the ideals behind the creation of Tomorrowland at the Disneyland theme park.  In essence, the filmmakers are trying to tell the audience something we already know, but with all of the obstacles in place today, is unfortunately an impossible task.  As one of the characters explains: What if we could take all of the smartest people in the world and allow them to collaborate without all of the pitfalls that come from politics, greed, religion, etc.  The thinking is we would then live in a future world that would have everyone living as equals in a society full of technology that furthers our lives, rather than clutter them.  Frank becomes an important part of this society, but it is never made clear if the intentions of the people running the show are to eventually allow everyone on Earth in or not.

     After the extended prologue, we arrive back to present day where we meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a tomboy who dreams of space travel by way of NASA and the influence of her father who works as an engineer for NASA, but is about to be laid off after the dismantling of a space shuttle launch pad.  As we soon learn, the little girl we met earlier, Athena, functions as a sort of recruiter for Tomorrowland and does so by secretly giving a potential candidate a small pin that acts as a portal to the utopian city.  Casey finds hers after she is arrested and bailed out of jail when being caught trespassing on NASA property trying to foil the tear down of her father’s worksite.  She quickly discovers when touching the pin that she is instantly transported to Tomorrowland.

     The sequence Bird and his team have created for Casey’s initial exploration of Tomorrowland is by far the best of the film.  Not a single detail was overlooked as Bird’s camera swoops and pans along with Casey as she tours a sprawling metropolis featuring futuristic monorails, numerous personal gadgetry, rocket ships taking off for space, and massive chromatic buildings with one looking suspiciously like Space Mountain.  Of course, the pin has a countdown clock on the back of it, so her stay is only temporary.  Ultimately, Casey is led to Frank Walker’s home, who is now grown and played by George Clooney.  For all his efforts in the marketing campaign, Clooney appears briefly in the film’s opening moments, but is not seen again until the third act.  The majority of the story centers around Casey and her attempts at piecing together the puzzle that is Tomorrowland.  This is helped eventually by Athena revealing to Casey her true mission, but it takes the entire rest of the film to tie everything together. 

     While the third act is overly talky and seems intent on continually pushing the message that we are currently getting it all wrong in the world (Something I agree with completely.), there are several notable moments along the way.  One of which has Casey checking into the origins of her newly acquired pin at a movie memorabilia shop owned by two, shall I say, interesting characters played by Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn.  The shop itself is full of “Star Wars” props in particular, a definite positive byproduct of the fact Disney now owns the property.  Touches like these create several nostalgic moments throughout “Tomorrowland”, but in the end we realize this sort of dream society can only actually be visited by purchasing a $99 ticket to a theme park.  GRADE: C+