There’s a lot to like about Disney’s “Tomorrowland.” It’s got George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, robots and explosions, a positive message, and it puts the fate of the future in the hands of two smart young girls.
Still, it’s hard to say exactly who the audience is for this packed-to-the-brim, sci-fi/action-adventure/family romp. The story is nostalgic for a more hopeful time half a century ago, there’s some serious robot violence, yet its overly earnest tone seems aimed at little kids.
A former boy-genius and an optimistic teenager join forces to find the mysterious Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland is a roller coaster ride. Literally. The whole movie is based on one of Disney’s theme park areas. This joke will be made in every Tomorrowland review you read.
It’s tough to avoid, though, because – like Pirates of the Caribbean before it – the description is pretty apt. Tomorrowland never pauses to catch breath. Even the few slower moments still involve enormous peril or poignancy. The film only has one speed – that of tipping over a roller coaster’s edge.
In anyone else’s hands, the constant action would numb the senses. In Brad Bird’s – only his second live-action movie after Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – every jolt and twist in the tracks is experienced full force. The camera is dynamic (especially in the awe-inspiring, one-take Tomorrowland commercial), the score bold (Michael Giacchino has reunited The Incredibles’brass section) and edited without an ounce of fat (take a bow, Walter Murch, one of cinema’s greatest editors). But, in truth, all that just makes for the ride’s vibrating seat, or the strobe lighting in the haunted fibreglass cavern. The real stomach lurches of joy come from the message at Tomorrowland’s narrative core.
Clooney and Laurie each bring a predictably crowd-pleasing presence. And there are delightful, smaller performances throughout, including Judy Greer as a doomsday-minded schoolteacher and Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key as the intense, offbeat owners of a comic-book shop.
There are also some eye-popping action sequences. Franks house goes into safety mode like a modern-day “Get Smart,” and the Eiffel Tower splits in two to launch a rocket from its center.
Director Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof have created an original, aspirational story that pays homage to Walt Disney’s imaginative concepts of the future. The “It’s a Small World” ride, which Disney actually created for the 1964 World’s Fair, even plays a role. The film’s take on Tomorrowland’s sloping, floating landscape — complete with airborne monorail — looks like something Disney himself could have dreamt up.
But they get a little preachy and heavy-handed in the film. Most people understand that war, overpopulation and climate change are human-caused realities that endanger life on this planet, and that it’s better to try to improve things than to give up entirely. Yet, although everyone can use a pep talk, “Tomorrowland” repeats the message again and again, to the point of platitude.
“In every moment, there’s a possibility for a better future,” Nix says. “But you people won’t do it.”
Nor will politicians or captains of industry, he says: “All they want is to keep the wheels greased and the dollars rolling in.”
The movie’s message is admirable. This age is one dominated by fear – politicians no longer offer dreams and hope; they warn against exaggerated threats and disaster instead. Tomorrowland preaches the power of the former. It’s the sort of film where every actor is lit with a twinkle in their eyes. They’re optimists, dreamers, and it’s infectious.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5