June Issue 2015

By | Movies | Published 4 years ago

Brad Bird is very excited about the core idea of his second live action feature film, Tomorrowland — a perfect world existing in a parallel dimension that humans can travel to. Sadly, the excitement isn’t infectious enough. However, the sheer energy of the narrative and the fast-paced script make the film watchable on the whole.

Tomorrowland starts off with the ‘World’s Fair’ in mid-60s New York. Whiz kid Frank Walker (whose older version is played by George Clooney) has invented a jetpack — if only he could make the damn thing fly! A sort-of judge, David Nix (Hugh Laurie) rejects Frank’s model because he believes it won’t really make a difference to the world. Frank, however, disagrees.

It turns out that the judge and his young assistant, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), are actually from another dimension — a place called ‘Tomorrowland.’ A wondrous utopian world where only the smartest people get to live and invent incredible things to make life better. While Frank doesn’t impress Nix, he nonetheless gets his ticket to Tomorrowland thanks to Athena.

This is all just a set-up for the rest of the film, because the actual protagonist is Casey (Britt Robertson). We are introduced to her in the present and much like the young Frank Walker, she too is some sort of genius, making life difficult for NASA in her spare time, until she finds a mysterious pin. When she touches it, she can see Tomorrowland. Is this her invitation?

After a very funny scene involving Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key (they are playing androids named after famous Disney characters, Ursula and Hugo), Casey crosses paths with Athena, who appears to be the same age as she was 50 years ago. Indeed, Athena is responsible for Casey getting that pin. And she will get Casey to Frank Walker. But he is no longer in Tomorrowland; he has been banished by David Nix and is hiding somewhere as a reclusive inventor. Now a grumpy slob, he is not exactly thrilled when Casey arrives at his doorstep.

The problem with Tomorrowland is that it continuously harps on its environmental message — we are destroying our planet — but that sort of upholding of moral standards has no real credibility in a Disney action sci-fi like this. Of course it’s a noble and important undertaking to not only entertain but also educate, but it’s all layered in this very confusing idea about a utopia that we get to see very little of, and which is not even all that relevant to the plot. Tomorrowland, the actual place, is like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disney World modelled after plans made by Walt Disney himself. Damon Lindelof, writer of shows like Lost and films like Prometheus, is credited as co-writer with Bird. His sci-fi sensibilities are evident in the film but they just don’t convince.

What does work, however, is the chemistry between Clooney and the two stars-in-the-making, Robertson and Cassidy. Their scenes with Clooney in the second-half are great — even when they take a rather bizarre and confounding detour to Paris. That scene, where a rocket is launched from under the Eiffel Tower, encapsulates what is so frustrating, as well as fascinating, about Tomorrowland — it is filled with worthy ideas. But the script is, at times, a little too far-fetched to be taken seriously.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s June 2015 issue under the headline “Overkill.”

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany