"Tomorrowland" A Finely Acted Cautionary Tale Too Mature For The "Frozen" Audience

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Tomorrowland starts 5/22/2015

“Tomorrowland” is an interesting film for Disney Pictures. It’s based on the Tomorrowland theme parks found within the greater Disney World and Disneyland campuses, and is very exciting visually. It also a PG movie, which surprises me a little, as profanity is sometimes hinted at and there are occasional moments of unexpected violence that could leave the little ones in a bit of shock. In fact, the movie’s message itself probably would be lost on the kids that get excited for films like “Frozen” and “Despicable Me” (I know, not Disney, not the point).

 The film stars George Clooney as Frank, who as a young farm boy (young Frank is played by Thomas Robinson) with a genius intellect and insatiable curiosity goes to the World’s Fair in New York and gets “recruited” by Athena, played by the incredibly talented young actress Raffey Cassidy, to join her and her boss, David Nix (Dr. House himself, Hugh Laurie) in Tomorrowland, a secret utopia where dreamers can reshape their reality. The movie then jumps to the present, where Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, CBS’s Under the Dome), teenage daughter to soon-to-be-unemployed NASA engineer Eddie Newton (country music superstar Tim McGraw), gets recruited too. Her visit doesn’t last long, and she sneaks away on a journey to find out more about the mysterious lapel pin that transported her to the world of the future. On the way she nearly gets disintegrated by the unusual sci-fi kitsch store couple Kathryn Hahn (TV’s Crossing Jordan) and Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele, President Obama’s “Anger Translator”), discovers Athena’s secret, and meets cantankerous, suspicious and all grown up Frank, just before another goon squad from the now much less inviting Tomorrowland comes to kill them both.

 It’s Disney, so one might surmise the ending on their own, but getting to that point is two hours and ten minutes of old Walt Disney’s vision of the future being preached amidst the same violence that Hugh Laurie’s Nix is railing against. The scenes at the sci-fi store are over-the-top enough that kids won’t take it seriously, but there is a scene where Athena gets hit by a pickup truck that made kids and adults alike flinch around me. There are a couple of instances where characters utter “Son of a…” which never really gets answered, and might lead to some interesting questions from your child on the ride home.

 Despite some uneven moments where the plot seems to meander, punctuated by moments of “Hey! The world is going to Hell! We (as in the viewers) can stop it, if we’d keep dreaming and stop settling for what we’re given. Good enough isn’t nearly good enough!” Frankly, I agree. I don’t think the target audience of this film will quite grasp it. Or perhaps I misjudged the target—maybe Disney cleverly disguised a wake-up call for adults in a film where Clooney booby traps his house six ways from Sunday, where an old brass “steampunk” rocket gets launched out of the Eiffel Tower, and where the future utopia becomes a sad dystopia without any real reason for it was the whole point.

 Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I’ve always been a dreamer, always wondered why things aren’t better than they are. I grew up on old Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons where the future was bright and vibrant and exciting. A future where when my alarm goes off, a robotic hand gently lifts me out of bed, runs me through the shower, grooms and dresses me and deposits me at my kitchen table where my breakfast is already prepared for me. A future where flying cars are common place, and everything is orderly and tidy. I live in a world where the oil conglomerates, an industry based on pools of sludgy dinosaur goo, run the politicians, who can’t think for themselves on any topic, to prevent technological breakthroughs from ever really catching on because they don’t have the foresight to change their own business models to befit both themselves and their customers. If it’s not oil, it’s the pharmaceutical companies who won’t cure diseases because it would put them out of business, or business moguls who barter and lobby favors for a piece of the power behind the Oval Office. And if it’s none of the above, there’s plenty of petty dictators, religious fanaticism and simple human hatred of anything different from the way one looks, thinks or behaves dragging the planet down. Money, mysticism or morality, pick your poison. I shudder to think what Walt Disney would think of the world today. I bet he’d be mighty disappointed.

 Director Brad Bird (where’s the sequel to your terrific “The Incredibles” movie, Mr. Bird? 10 years and counting—the kids that loved the first one will be bringing their own kids to the next one…) handles the action scenes admirably, and the dialogue is snappy enough to be believable. He gets strong efforts from his three heroes, with George Clooney handling the world-weary and disillusioned Frank with enthusiasm, Britt Robertson bringing optimism and believable shock and awe to her role, and Raffey Cassidy looking like the next Dakota Fanning, a child star destined for a wall of gold statues. It takes a lot for me to get excited about child actors, and Miss Cassidy completely blew me away. Heck, even Tim McGraw was solid in his small part. Despite the performances and effects though, Bird’s celebration of Walt Disney’s vision just seems to be a bit unfocused, the plot culminating in a simple brawl on the beach between Frank and Nix after Nix gives one final, scathing monologue over the sorry state of the world and our failure to do more to fix it. After all the build-up and the message, it all comes down to another physical confrontation. Haven’t we already had more than enough of that…and wasn’t that basically the point of “Tomorrowland”—to be better that we are today?

 It certainly isn’t a bad film, I personally enjoyed it, but if you’re thinking this will be something your pre-teens will absolutely love you may well be disappointed. The family seated behind me had a sleeping younger boy and an approximately 10-12 year old girl who seemed tired but said she liked it, without the kind of enthusiasm you usually get from kids at the end of a big Disney animated romp. If you’re a dreamer, an idealist like Mr. Disney who thinks the world is indeed heading down the wrong path, a visionary futurist who thinks they can make a difference despite all the obstacles the entrenched systems will place in your way, you’ll find “Tommorrowland” exhilarating and thought-provoking. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of us.

 Yet.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0