Review: Tomorrowland (2015)

Tomorrowland

Rating

Director
Brad Bird
Screenplay
Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof, Jeff Jensen
Length
130 min.
Starring
George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Bauer, Thomas Robinson, Pierce Gagnon, Judy Greer, Matthew MacCaull
MPAA Rating
PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language

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Review
In the modern world, youngsters are decreasingly optimistic about their chances of having an impact on the world in which they live. Tomorrowland hopes to turn that concept on its ear by giving the youth in our nation (and around the world) a lofty goal to which to aspire.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a passionate, dedicated young woman. Her father (Tim McGraw) is on the brink of losing his job as NASA dismantles one of its legendary shuttle launch pads. Through careful midnight excursions, she disables vehicles and ensures that work will take just a little extra time. Eventually, she’s apprehended. After being released, she discovers a bright pin among her belongings that allows her to see a vision of the future for which she longs.

When the medallion loses its power, Casey goes in search of this Utopia, uncovering a strange conspiracy that prevents the world from discovering that this future is not only real, but in danger of collapsing. Alongside an aging conspiracy junkie (George Clooney) and an automaton from this futuristic world (Raffey Cassidy), she embarks on an odyssey to save this future and ensure that those who can make it happen get their inspiration.

Walt Disney may have been a flawed man, but there’s one thing he always had a passion for and that was molding the minds of young viewers and encouraging them to reach out beyond their moribund lives and strive to be something better. Created on a strict budget from 1955 to 1956, Tomorrowland was envisioned as a part of Disneyland that would highlight the future, focus on scientific discovery and act as a catalyst for impressionable minds. Disney’s feature version, directed by gifted action helmer Brad Bird, strives to encapsulate Walt’s massive vision of a bright and optimistic future and Bird, along with co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, largely succeed.

Aided in no small part by the talented Robertson, Tomorrowland keeps the action intense for large parts of the film, slowing down just long enough to give the audience an idea of what’s going on. Perhaps a bit too motivated by verbal recitation of backstory, the concept is solid and mostly transcends those limitations. Robertson infuses Casey with the type of wide-eyed wonder we often envision our young visionaries having. Her constant chipper desire to explore and expand her knowledge is infectious, rooting the audience clearly in favor of her victory. She’s a charming, affable presence that frequently boosts her co-stars’ scenes, even those she shares with the incredibly familiar Clooney.

Clooney seems particularly well suited to working alongside young actors. As was evident in The Descendants, when he starred alongside the superb Oscar-worthy Shailene Woodley, he recognizes when his scene partners need to shine beyond him and relinquishes those moments with little concern for his own ego. Clooney and Robertson work so well together that it would be great to see them show up in future features together.

Tomorrowland‘s loving appreciation for the strength of its characters’ passions enables the audience to feel emotionally invested in their success. It’s a Disney film, so their success is largely guaranteed even if the obstacles in the way are particularly onerous. This inevitability isn’t a detriment in this case. It improves the film’s credibility as a visionary exploration of bolstered self-confidence. It wants the audience to identify with the characters so that they’ll be inspired to break out of the conformity that seems to be constantly pressing in on them. It wants us all to see that the future can only happen if we fight for it. Letting others create and advance our culture while we’re perpetually absolved of responsibility creates a passive society, one which can be more easily manipulated by those in power.

I would seldom give Disney credit for subversion, since many of its films are cotton candy commodities designed to rake in boatloads of cash. However, Bird is a byproduct of the Pixar Brain Trust, a group accustomed to taking on subversive topics in the guise of free market entertainment. Tomorrowland owes a great deal of its inspiration to the works of Pixar, most notably WALL-E, where topics of concern for our modern world are embellished with grand adventures and humor. While not nearly as perfect as many of those Pixar efforts, the influence is obvious and the result approaches that level of excellence.
Spoiler Discussion
The Tomorrowland pin given to Casey, which sets the film’s events in motion, is a simple tool designed to entice the curious and the intelligent into seeking out a future of which they have always dreamed. It’s meant to bring people to a single destination where their inventiveness, forethought and passion can be harnessed to help make the world a better place. This device is used primarily as a plot device, but in the film’s final moments, it becomes something different.

After the events of the film are resolved to everyone’s expectations, Casey and her associates revive the program that had sent the automaton out to collect individuals of exceptional merit, specifically the one who discovered both her and Clooney’s character at a young age. Here, the film comes to a halt, but it’s a wonderful halt. We’re presented with scenes of men and women from many different places around the world, from different cultures, of vastly different ages, and from many different professions. These scenes, as removed from the film as they may seem at first, create one of the film’s strongest moments.

It’s an inspiration segment that exemplifies Disney’s vision of inclusivity and approachability. This is a moment when the audience fully embraces just what kind of worldly aspirations Disney often embodied and, through whose perseverance, moved towards achieving. If you aren’t encouraged to be a better person and work towards a positive future after this, then perhaps you are like the governor of the future world (Hugh Laurie) and incapable of seeing beyond the inevitability of world destruction, a myopic viewpoint that, as the film points out, has become far too pervasive in the world today.
Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

June 9, 2015

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