Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland” is the kind of movie cynics will love to hate. It deals with very big ideas, has an old-school sense of wonder, and posits that imagination and positive thinking can save the world. It may come off as simplistic and overly naïve, but it is a refreshing concept compared to the usual disaster scenarios of summer blockbusters.
The story, written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, revolves around a hidden city loosely based on Walt Disney’s vision of the future as seen in one of his theme parks and what it meant to accomplish. In the movie Tomorrowland was to house the world’s smartest people and their inventions in the hope of making the world a better place, which is what young inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) discovers in the 1960s along with a jetpack he made in his father’s workshop. Unfortunately something went wrong with the city and Frank grew up to be a cynical recluse played by George Clooney.
In the present day optimistic Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is sent on a quest to find Tomorrowland after finding a pin that gives her a glimpse of the city filled with spaceships and other technologically astounding advancements. Casey is one resourceful teen, who breaks into a NASA facility to sabotage the vehicles of the construction crew sent to wreck the place because there is no more funding for space exploration, rendering her engineer father unemployed. At school while her teachers talk about the imminent dangers of global warming and nuclear catastrophes she always raises her hand to ask, “What can be done about it?” without ever getting an answer.
The answers to her questions might reside in Tomorrowland, and Frank might know how to get her there, but he seems to have lost all hope in the place and what it stands for. Also hindering Casey’s quest is a pack of killer humanoid robots with creepy smiles that work for David Nix (Hugh Laurie) the city’s leader who is intent on keeping everyone out.
The journey to get to the city is a fun one, helped along the way by Athena (Raffey Cassidy) a mysterious girl who makes for an interesting and amusing sidekick. Casey, with her love of science and determination, has a lot of spunk and slight shades of Indiana Jones since she never wants to leave her hat behind even while being chased by robots armed with ray guns in Frank’s booby-trapped house. There are some moments of good humour as the three of them travel from Houston to Paris and into seemingly another dimension while pressing each other’s buttons.
It is when they actually make it to Tomorrowland that the story’s foundations are somewhat shaken. There is a lot of talk about doomsday scenarios for the world, all of them very real. The villainous Nix argues that humanity knows fully well the end is coming, but instead of doing anything about it has commercialised it and sold it as entertainment. He kind of has a point. One of the most watched shows on TV is “The Walking Dead,” the tagline for the disaster movie “San Andreas” is “We all knew this day would come,” and there are plenty of videogames that deal with a destroyed planet Earth.
Bird and Lindelof seem to argue that all it takes to reverse the incoming tide is at least one spark of optimism, here represented by Robertson’s Casey. I guess you can say that if everyone believes the world is going to end, odds are it will actually end, but is the solution as simple as having one person believe in hope?
Whether or not you agree with the ideas of “Tomorrowland” and its filmmakers, you can certainly enjoy the ride getting there. It has a great sense of adventure, strong action sequences, and Robertson and Cassidy both make for a good foil to Clooney. It probably won’t change the world, but it might make you think about it.