“Tomorrowland” is a futuristic dose of optimism: 3/5
“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia”- John Green, in Looking for Alaska
And so it is in Tomorrowland, the latest live-action Disney film, a movie about the acceptance of the decline of civilization into complete disrepair. Yet it also contains themes about the power of human ingenuity and its ability to change the future. Very rarely do you find a film that captures the essence of these two ideas so well, and still finds itself sinking to tried plot devices and characters.
The idea of Disney park attractions becoming films has been tried over. It worked for Pirates of the Caribbean, and didn’t for The Haunted Mansion. It’s a flimsy idea, no doubt, especially when you’re using a source that provides little to no pre-existing characters, ideas, and plot points. With Tomorrowland, Disney has seemingly gotten too cocky. How is it that an entire film could be based on a theme park area with no story? Answer: it isn’t.
The film is based on Walt Disney’s view of the future, which he embodied in Tomorrowland. Walt imagined a land where people could live without worries, where progress would constantly bring newer and better things, where the best and the brightest could live and create. Director and writer Brad Bird (of The Incredibles and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), alongside Damon Lindelof (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus), brings the ideas to carefully click in to place alongside the characters and plot.
Then again, the film doesn’t deal with this setting. Who would see a film with absolutely no conflict? The film instead focuses around with Casey (Britt Robertson), an eternal optimist, who, one day finds in her possession, a small pin, which, with a touch, will transport her inside a world too wonderful to believe. She decides to get to the bottom of it and finds Frank (George Clooney) with the help of a little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), and he is forced to help her find the land she experiences when she touches the pin. Frank explains that the world has only so much time left before a sort of apocalypse. Somehow, finding Tomorrowland will save the world. And so starts an adventure which includes a group of four geniuses, a squad of robots, and an incredibly stunning scene involving the Eiffel Tower. They eventually make it to Tomorrowland, surprisingly close to the end of the film, and meet the villain of the piece (played by Hugh Laurie), he reveals his plans and motives, and it culminates into a large climax.
As I mentioned before, the film’s strengths lie not in its plot. The storytelling gets rather thin at the end of the movie. The film is something different, but the finale feels like yet another sci-fi picture. It uses tried plot points and characters (i.e. the reluctant guide, time slowly running out), and some scenes do feel rushed. Yet the actors give it their all. You can always on George Clooney giving a great performance, and Hugh Laurie is fine. Yet the real joy to watch is newcomers Robertson and Cassidy. Their acting sells the film.
And while the details of the plot and characters in them may eventually slip from your mind, the idea and message of Tomorrowland will linger for a long time after the film’s close. The ideas are that the creative can change the world, and that the future doesn’t have to be dark and grim. With enough hard work, it can be bright and hopeful. I find it rather ironic that Tomorrowland is being shown around the same time (and in the theater next to, in my case) as the new Mad Max film.
To come full circle, why include the quote about nostalgia at the start of this review? Because the future that both Brad Bird and Walt Disney have imagined is nostalgic. People used to think of the future as bright and fun. Now, when the theaters are populated by films in the Hunger Games, Divergent, and Mad Max series, and bookshelves are filled with works of Vonnegut, Orwell, and Huxley, that future seems to no longer exist. Except in Tomorrowland, which explodes with optimism and hopeful aspirations. That’s something you can’t find in a theme park.