There are a lot of films made lately that have to do with the end of the world. There’s no question about that. Whether they are a disaster movie about the world’s destruction, a post-apocalyptic film, or a dystopian film depicting an entirely different way of life, these kinds of films are everywhere. So in way, a movie like Brad Bird’s “Tomorrowland” is rather refreshing in that while all the films previously mentioned are dark and depressing, this one is hopeful. Optimistic, even, that humanity can indeed avoid the destruction that all the other movies make it appear that we are hurtling towards.
That’s the thing with “Tomorrowland”, though. It’s difficult to determine just what the message is. Is it trying to tell us how to change reality, as regards global warming and the like? Or is it a reaction to those movies that tend to depict a future with little hope for humanity left?
Maybe it’s a bit of both. The Disney film is, after all, the kind of entertainment that Walt Disney himself would have liked to make. Based a bit on the vision of Tomorrowland seen in the Disney theme parks, and a bit on the 1964 World’s Fair, where Disney presented such ground-breaking attractions as “It’s a Small World”, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln”, and “The Carousel of Progress”, the heroine of “Tomorrowland” is Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a smart, curious, and optimistic teen. After being arrested trying to stop the demolition of a launch pad where her dad—a NASA engineer—works, she finds among her possessions a mysterious pin. When she touches it, she sees a whole new world—a futuristic world, where it seems like anything is possible. But her possession of the pin soon makes her a target, and she ends up crossing paths with Frank Walker (George Clooney), an inventor who also had one of the pins when he was a child.
“Tomorrowland” is, for the most part, a fun adventure story that pays homage to Disney and the sci-fi genre every chance it gets. Disneyland’s “Small World” ride, the “Carousel of Progress” theme song, Space Mountain, and audio animatronics all make appearances, though it is up to the viewer to decide if it feels more like a tribute than marketing. There’s also a particularly fun fight scene that involves a guy getting hit over the head with a life-size R2-D2, and the sequence in which Frank and Casey must escape from his booby-trapped house is enjoyable. The story also unfolds in a way that keeps the viewer interested through the film, even in its most confusing parts, introducing some of Frank’s backstory first and then saving the character’s fate for later in the movie. The special effects are great, and the worlds created imaginative.
The climax is a bit of a head-scratcher though. It’s not even because of the story, although the “bad guy’s” motivations are rather confusing (why send humans to Tomorrowland in the first place if he believed they would just destroy it anyway?) and there’s some weird time travel stuff—but that’s to be expected from virtually any story that messes with time. It’s the message that’s strange. On the one hand, it’s a nice change to see a movie that is so optimistic. On the other hand, it’s almost too optimistic, so much so that it’s hard to believe it could actually be referring to real life. Maybe I’m just not one of the movie’s “dreamers”, but it’s laughable to think that the whole fate of the world could be changed based on the self-fulfilling prophecy: that the world is going to end because we have resigned ourselves to the fact that it will and there is nothing we can do about it. Maybe I like to think that if we did know for a fact that the world was going to end, that we as humans would actually try to do something about it. That’s what prompts me to believe that maybe “Tomorrowland” doesn’t work so well as a reaction to reality, but rather as one to other fictional worlds. Perhaps Brad Bird and Damon Lindelhof are trying to distil the popularity of franchises like “The Hunger Games” or “Mad Max”, or even, to reach back in time further, films like the original “Planet of the Apes”, by saying that it doesn’t have to be that way, that we can use the entertainment medium to paint a picture of a future that is bright as opposed to stark and dismal.
The story, for all its potential, does wrap up a bit too nicely at the end. There are a lot of occurrences throughout the film that come off as too convenient as well. But the characters are (mostly) interesting—especially Raffey Cassidy’s Athena—and the message, whether you agree or disagree, get it or don’t, does provide some food for thought. It’s an ambitious film, one that tries too hard and falters a bit while doing so, but it is solid, original entertainment. Sometimes it’s good to just see something different.
Runtime: 130 minutes. Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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