At one moment in Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, one of the lead characters exclaims, “Can’t you just be amazed and move on?” It’s a line that Disney would surely like us to follow with this earnest, visually pleasing, sometimes preachy and totally uneven tale sprung from the minds of Bird and cowriter Damon Lindelof. There is a lot to admire about Tomorrowland and seeing an original picture presented with such a big budget and lots of tech wizardry is among them. Yet it’s hard to love it. Tomorrowland is mainly centered on optimism and it doesn’t hesitate to occasionally lecture us about a generation that dared to stop dreaming, according to its filmmakers. This is primarily centered on lack of focus with the space program and loss of interest in advancing science. Here we have a mega budget sci fi tale with a point of view and a supremely talented director behind the camera to tell it. There are moments during Tomorrowland that left me greatly optimistic for where the story would go to next and individual sequences that were flat out terrific. The faded optimism came with a plot that never really pays off and a third act that doesn’t match up with the first two. It results in being Bird’s least satisfying overall experience, though he’s set quite a bar with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The movie begins with young Frank Walker at the World’s Fair in New York circa 1964. He’s invented a jetpack that sadly doesn’t fly. Nevertheless, his unbridled enthusiasm in science draws the attention of Athena (Raffie Cassidy), a young girl who gives him a pin emblazoned with a big T. Frank soon discovers that this pin transports him to Tomorrowland, a land many dimensions away that looks quite futuristic. We soon learn this is a place where dreamers can go to dream and invent things to keep the future rolling along without the interference of Earthly distractions like money and politics. Turns out Athena is no little girl and she’s a programmed robot tasked with finding those special people to populate Tomorrowland.
When the story switches to present day, Athena’s new pupil is Casey (Britt Robertson), an energetic and endlessly curious teen whose dad (Tim McGraw) is a NASA engineer who doesn’t get much work. She gets a pin as well, but her journey isn’t an easy one. It includes meeting a grown up Frank (George Clooney), whose feelings on Tomorrowland have changed through the years and not in a positive way. They may be well founded as Tomorrowland’s leader David Nix (Hugh Laurie) has a rather warped view on us Earth folk.
For a picture stressing the virtue of the idea behind Tomorrowland, we don’t spend much time there. Most of the action is set back on this planet and a lot of what we see is quite entertaining. Raffie Cassidy has the most challenging role of all and she gives a winning performance. Robertson and Clooney may be stars and they are both just fine, but Cassidy’s butt kicking robo girl steals the show. A scene in a hobby shop with Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn and a sequence in which the Eiffel Tower is harboring an underground rocket ship are particular highlights.
As I stated, a lot to admire. However, by the time Laurie’s Nix is essentially preaching the plot to us in the third act, I felt a little underwhelmed. I realize this Utopias world he spoke of didn’t get explored much here. And while lessons about destroying the planet are important, it’s not like we haven’t heard it all before. I still would recommend making this trip because there is enough to like, but temper that optimism a little perhaps.
*** (out of four)