What It’s About
This one’s for the dreamers. Fanciful and filled with wonder, “Tomorrowland” celebrates the curious men and women who ask the questions that move us forward as a society.
Because of its focus on innovation, this sci-fi fantasy gets an A for effort. But the execution is less successful, and for all its heady ambitions, falls flat as much as it soars.
Still, there’s George Clooney, always interesting even when he’s playing a cranky character instead of a usual debonair cool guy. He is grown-up Frank Wilson, a disillusioned former boy genius mad at the world, and in particular, Tomorrowland leaders.
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And the focus on smart girls is refreshing! Our two heroines, a spunky genius Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) and a determined android Athena (Raffey Cassidy), propel the adventure.
The alternate-reality story is very busy, and gets bogged down in exposition. We veer from present-day regular surroundings into another dimension, where Tomorrowland is a mythical, magical think tank — a cross between Emerald City and a Disney theme-park attraction.
Its original intention was to propel us into a shiny, optimistic future, but we now have evil thwarting the brainiacs. They want to return Tomorrowland to its former luster but first must save the world. It gets complicated.
Casey has joined Frank, brought together through Athena, on this dangerous mission. They must fight Gov. Nix (Hugh Laurie) to prevent Doomsday.
A grizzled Clooney works well with the young girls, and it’s fun to see him play a reluctant action hero, a different type of role for him.
The appealing Robertson (“Under the Doom”) gives her character an urgent, impatient quality. Casey is a dynamo that will hopefully inspire more girl scientists. She’s bursting with can-do attitude and questions, lots of questions.
Cassidy (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) is quite striking as Athena, the lovable robot whose intentions are pure. She is reminiscent of Hayley Mills in her pre-teen prime, a sweet throwback to old Disney movies.
In fine support is country singer Tim McGraw as Casey’s aerospace engineer Dad. Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key are a hoot as shop owners. Hugh Laurie is rather dull as Gov. Nix, orchestrating the nefarious proceedings.
The retro eye candy is as dazzling as the modern visual effects. A vintage rocket ship blasting off in Paris is a stunning sequence. And there are many wondrous details that harken back to the ’60s space-age optimism. (Think “The Jetsons” meet “Atomic Cafe,” hosted by “Mr. Wizard.”)
Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“Life of Pi”) creates visual splendor, all underlined with a sense of wonder. Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino’s (“Up”) score enhances the film.
As an antithesis to the current crop of gloomy dystopia movies, the bold, bright ideas are invigorating.
In 1938, Thornton Wilder wrote in “Our Town”: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
The filmmakers, and by default, Walt Disney and the people who carry on his traditions, want to remind us of that.
Director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) is a certifiable visionary, and dreams big.
What Doesn’t Work
Bird has assembled all the right elements — good cast, dynamic visuals, and stellar creative team. But as co-writer with Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) and Jeff Jensen, they got caught up with the wonder aspect without sharpening the focus. They needed more emotional connection, too, and the conclusion wasn’t as satisfying.
The film doesn’t catch fire quite like it should have. Yet, it is imaginative, and can be an inspirational tool to spur excitement in scientific possibilities.
3 stars out of 4
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Judy Greer, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw
Rated: PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language