Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery
Run Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key
Written by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird, Jeff Jensen
Directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol)
The future ain't what it used to be. Today's vision of the future - in films ranging from Edge of Tomorrow, to Interstellar, to last week's most recent Mad Max film - is often quite bleak. There is usually some man-made catastrophe that creates some kind of disastrous dystopia, where man-kind's very existence is threatened. And while there have always been cautionary fantasies about the future (see George Orwell's 1984 or Fritz Lang's Metropolis), it seems that the 1950s and 1960s offered a much more optimistic view of our impending path...especially if you have ever seen the future through the eyes of Walt Disney. If you've ever been to EPCOT center, you know that Disney saw technology not as a threat, but as a means to advance our growth as a species. Flying cars, video phones, smart-robots and space suits were key elements in his vision of a future that exuded hope, peace and optimism. It is no surprise then, that Walt Disney Pictures' Tomorrowland (opening today), represents everything that would have made Walt proud: His cheerfulness, his positivity, his idealism. And while the Disney brand clearly has millions of faithful enthusiasts, it also has a legion of haters that gag at the squeaky-cleanness of it all. Well haters, rejoice.
Tomorrowland is everything that people hate about Disney. It's such a powerfully toxic dose of vanilla, that it even made me - a life-long Disney devotee - gag.
"Tomorrowland," of course, is also the name of one of the lands at Walt Disney World, and the movie doesn't shy away from trying to whore out its Disney branding almost instantly. The 1964 New York's World Fair plays a vital role in the film, and to any Disney historians, you will know the significance that this event had in Disney's rise to fame...it's where Disney unveiled his famous "It's A Small World" ride, and his "Carousel of Progress" that still operates in Tomorrowland at Disney World (the catchy song, "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" is actually one of the first songs you will hear in the film).
The story of Tomorrowland, the movie, is told in flashbacks from two different points of view. First, there is Frank Walker (George Clooney, whose younger self is played by Thomas Robinson), who as a child attended the World Fair with a self-made jet-pack that he tried to submit for show. While at the Fair, he meets an odd little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who introduces him to a secret "hidden" world of the future known as Tomorrowland...it seems that the Fair is some kind of front to discover the newest and greatest technology, so that it can be utilized by their mysterious inhabitants, led by a brooding - scientist? - named Nix (Hugh Laurie).
The second point-of-view of the story is given from a teenage girl, Casey Newton (Under the Dome's Britt Robertson), who comes across a pin with the powers to transport her to Tomorrowland. The plot becomes convoluted and baffling from here, which should come as no surprise when you consider it was co-written by Damon Lindelof, a co-creator on the hit TV series Lost. There are many similarities with Tomorrowland and the story that is told in Lost. Both are about magical places that our protagonists just have to get back to, but they can't quite discover how to.
There is a story that Casey's dad (Tim McGraw) tells her in the film, about two wolves. One wolf represents darkness and despair, the other represents hope and optimism. Which wolf wins in a fight? The answer: Whichever wolf you choose to feed. That, in a nutshell, is what Tomorrowland is about, and it is nauseatingly optimistic in its approach. In fact, the real villain in the film is - no joke - a tower that spews negativity.
The Disney "vanilla" that is spread thick on this film doesn't do the brand any favors, nor does an underlying theme of having "imagination." For a film about imagining, dreaming and hoping, Lindelof and director Brad Bird go to the well of eternal cliches to pull out most - if not all - of their plot machinations. This is a film that includes a "special" chosen one in which the fate of all humanity relies on. A film where the bad guy explains his intentions right before he allows himself to get taken out by one of the good guys. A film where a robot tries desperately to discover what it must be like to be human. A film whose score is just as predictable as its characters, telling you what to feel and when, in case you might not be able to pick up on it. If you've seen it in another movie, you will most likely see it in Tomorrowland.
The cast is full of talent, from Clooney and Laurie to the Jennifer Lawrence-esque Britt Robertson, to the very gifted child-actors, Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson. There are even a few cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn (is she in every movie these days?). None of them play real people. These are only people that would exist in a Disney film. And for anyone that has grown-up with Disney (as I have) or is familiar with them, we all know that there have been several incredible, amazing achievements in their film canon. But there have also been several others that seem cheap, useless and manipulative. Tomorrowland can firmly and confidently be placed in that latter category.
The truth is, I expect a lot from Disney. When the brand is on-point, I will defend it to my dying day. There is real "magic" at Disney World and in many of their characters and films, and I am the furthest thing from a Disney-hater that one can be. But Tomorrowland is an indefensible movie. A disappointment by my standards for Disney and a complete dud using any other set of standards. While Walt may have been proud of many of the themes represented in this movie, there is no denying that Tomorrowland perpetuates all of the things people despise about the so-called "Disney formula."
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