When the source material for a 2015 film is a Disneyland neighborhood built in the 1950s, you can expect the story to take a lot of liberties. Creating a film out of a theme park attraction can’t be easy but, all things considered, director Brad Bird (“Ratatouille,” “The Incredibles”) successfully completes the task.
On our way to Tomorrowland, we meet Frank Walker (George Clooney) as a child, played with aplomb by Thomas Robinson. He’s at the 1964 World’s Fair pitching his concept for a jet pack in a contest run by a devious chap named Nix (Hugh Laurie). The jet pack, created from an Electrolux vacuum cleaner, still has a few issues and doesn’t actually work but the boy’s talent and optimism catch the eye of Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a girl who slips him a Tomorrowland pin and gives him access to the future.
Flash-forward to the present day and we meet a young woman named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). She’s an optimist who is dismayed by NASA’s dismantling of the facility where her dad (Tim McGraw) works. She hasn’t given up on the future and equates the loss of the space program with a loss of hope. She also comes in contact with a Tomorrowland pin and is freaked out by glimpses of the future that occur when she touches it. She has to know more.
A series of events puts her on the doorstep of an adult version of Frank Walker, who is living as a hermit in a technological fortress off the beaten track. Frank and Casey couldn’t be more different; one is a jaded curmudgeon and one is an unwavering young dreamer. They are at each other’s throats most of the time, but their goals are forced to unite in order to solve the mystery of Tomorrowland.
“Tommorowland” is lots of fun, even when the story itself doesn’t hold up or gets too preachy. The story, script and direction lean toward old-school, simplistic Disney. The audience is called on to be overly optimistic. There is plenty of action and conflict to keep the film afloat and the fantasy scenes featuring Tomorrowland are dazzling. The ending seems more like a commercial for a utopian scouting group than anything else. It would have been nice if the filmmakers could have toned it down with some subtlety.
Bird is slightly off-balance when it comes to the “show, don’t tell” method of movie-making. He’s got a lot to accomplish. If you’re willing to forgive his uneven indulgences, you’re in for an enjoyable ride.
This is a family film that will entertain older kids. Tweens and teens are more apt to understand the ambitious themes, while the younger ones might just enjoy the visuals. Parents will recognize the film’s inconsistencies. There are a few battles and some violence, but nothing bloody to traumatize the youngsters. A sense of idealism and a suspension of disbelief are warranted.
Sci-Fi adventure, rated PG; run time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Photo credit Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures