What do you do when you manage to produce an iconic multi-million dollar franchise out of a theme park ride? You try and do it again. Pirates of the Caribbean was one of Disney’s most successful in house properties in recent times, and although they could be content to play with their sparkly new Star Wars and Marvel toys, the world conquering company continue to look forward. This time they’ve enlisted the star power of George Clooney to help sell their latest movie: the Sci-fi adventure piece titled Tomorrowland. Based off a future themed land at the Disney parks (and not the music festival, though seeing Mickey Mouse take on one of the premier EDM festivals would be worth the price of admission), Tomorrowland takes the future as it was imagined in the past, and uses it to explore humanity and the the nature of the ‘dreamer’. The trailers revealed very little about the movie, so the question remains, what exactly is Tomorrowland, and is it worth it?
Considering how many movies like to show you everything before you ever step foot in the cinema (or click download), it is nice to have a movie like Tomorrowland remain something of a mystery, so I’ll try not to give too much of the plot away. What you need to know is that the story follows Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a teenaged science enthusiast who comes across a mysterious pin after being caught by the police for sneaking onto the NASA compound. The pin takes her to a mysterious futuristic place, and the rest of the movie follows her as she tries to get back there, aided by a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), as well as the reluctant Frank (George Clooney).
If there is one thing that Tomorrowland is, it’s optimistic. So much science fiction these days is wrapped up in negativity surrounding the dangers of technology and the future. Even many of the classics like 1984 or Brave New World (which are both referenced in the movie) predict dystopia rather than utopia. And while it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows presented in Tomorrowland, there is an underlying theme of hope and positivity spread throughout. It is that one guy you knew who always dreamed big and wanted to change the world, encapsulated in movie form.
The casting plays a big role in achieving that message. Britt Robertson is perfectly cast as Casey. She is an extremely likeable protagonist and her portrayal brilliantly captures that feeling of optimism. Her excitement and glee over the world of Tomorrowland is infectious, her bullheaded determination inspiring and she is someone you want to cheer for. Much of that comes from Robertson’s performance. Cassidy’s Athena stands out and provides a great co-foil to the grumpy old Clooney, who gives more to the performance that others in his position might have. It is also great to see Pierce Gagnon again (the creepy little kid from Looper), who has to be one of the better child actors in Hollywood right now.
Visually Tomorrowland is a sight to behold. Leeching off of Walt Disney’s old vision for the future, the city feels like it has been ripped from the pages of old sci-fi art magazines and conceptual drawings of clean white buildings and crazy possible technology. The usual hovering automobiles and jet packs litter the city scape and holographic displays continue to be all the rage. The effects overall aren’t groundbreaking but do not disappoint either, and while there are moments of Disney cheese, you have to occasionally remind yourself this is as much a kid’s movie as it is an adult’s.
For all of its excitement and wonder, the plot itself is fairly standard affair. Once the mystery of the story is gone and you focus on what is happening there are very few twists and turns to be had. Its message is loud and clear, and while the optimism is a breath of fresh air it may be layered on a little too thick for everyone. For Tomorrowland, the journey and the discovery outweighs the destination, even if the journey can get bogged down in the scientific mumbo jumbo. It is more fun watching Casey get to the fantastical Tomorrowland and while the last act serves its purpose, on top of providing some touching moments, it simply isn’t as fun.
But it is important for films like this to exist. If it inspires and encourages, then it succeeds. And while kids can find happy endings and “everything will be alright” messages in plenty of films targeted at them, Tomorrowland feels a little more mature and a little more genuine. It is a light to balance the darkness that the genre is full of and on top of that it is genuinely fun and adventurous. The retro and the current is balanced well, the characters are interesting and engaging and the journey is one you want to take again. It is a little sloppy in places, but I’ll take a genuine and ambitious movie any day over a boring polished one. Tomorrowland is a movie to inspire kids, and remind adults that the world is brighter than we often perceive it to be. And although the movie is more likely to slide into obscurity than change the world, it should be given the chance to help the dreamers dream and look to the stars again.