by E. Ladd
One might think (and hope) that a movie directed and co-written by Brad Bird, based on his past notable animated features The Iron Giant and the Oscar-winning The Incredibles, would yield impressive results. He set the bar very high, which is why his newest live action Disney film Tomorrowland, a science fiction mystery adventure, comes across as a bit of a let down.
The film opens with narrators Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) speaking to the camera while arguing about how best to tell the story. Frank goes first, transporting us back to 1964’s New York World Fair when he was a young boy, a wide-eyed innocent (Thomas Robinson) who brings his jet pack invention to be evaluated. After being rejected by judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie), Frank is approached by a mysterious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a pin marked “T” and tells him to follow her. And once he does, he encounters a world of the future, a veritable Emerald City, with glitzy glass skyscrapers, robots, and hovering vehicles, reminiscent of Bird’s 50s-’60s America retro-futuristic aesthetics from The Incredibles.
The movie then switches to Casey’s story and the year 2003, where she, a supposed girl genius wunderkind, now in her late teens/early 20s, lives in Cape Canaveral, Florida with her little brother (Pierce Gagnon) and father, soon-to-be-unemployed NASA engineer (Tim McGraw). By night, Casey sneaks out of the house to sabotage the cranes dismantling the NASA platform, in an attempt to prevent her father from being put out of work. During one evening foray, she finds herself arrested and while gathering her belongings at the police station discovers that she, too, is in possession of a lapel pin marked “T”. She finds herself transported to Tomorrowland upon touching the pin. After experiencing a magical but brief visit to this utopian city, the power of the pin wears off and she goes on a journey to uncover its mystery.
The film has a promising beginning but soon devolves into a story with a preachy tone and a number of inconsistencies. The theme about hope and imagination being the keys to the future is a noble one, but after sitting through this movie you feel as if you’ve been bludgeoned to death with its message. It lacks the charm of Bird’s previous works, a fault that may have something to do with Damon Lindelof’s participation as both cowriter and producer, (whose TV show Lost, in my humble opinion, was also wrought with muddled storytelling). Additionally, the lead character of Casey isn’t fully believable as a super genius, possibly being the only one with the ability to save humanity. Sure, she’s quite pretty and hopeful (“It’s hard to have ideas and easy to give up”), but there’s a forced cuteness, an almost irritating quality about actress Britt Robertson.
Tomorrowland does have its merits. It has lavish visuals with a Disneyfied sheen, fun gadgets and booby traps, smarmy robotic baddies, and some humorous scenes like the one in a Houston Sci-Fi memorabilia shop run by a geeky eccentric couple (played by Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn). There’s also the performance by relative newcomer Raffey Cassidy, who plays Athena with an air of wisdom beyond her years. She’ll be one to watch for in future films. It isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t a great one, either. Overall, it could have been better, especially with the talent involved.
Watch the trailer for Tomorrowland
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