The 400-Word-Review: Tomorrowland
By Sean Collier
June 1, 2015
Stop me when I get to something that charms you: George Clooney? ’60s-era futurism? The hopefulness of the space age? Adorable child robots? Mostly-anonymous twentysomething actresses? Constant references to Disney properties? Unnecessary British accents? Nikola Tesla?
None of that? Hmm. Don’t see Tomorrowland, then.
Tomorrowland, the second live-action film from visionary animator Brad Bird, creates a futuristic alternate universe straight out of… well, the Disneyworld subdivision of the same name. Self-powering monorails zip along while friendly, bulbous robots repair harmlessly malfunctioning equipment. Ethnically diverse, jetpack-clad yuppies frolic through the air. Pools of water hold together in midair for gravity-defying workouts because why the hell not.
Except it’s a mirage. The real Tomorrowland (yes, that’s what they call it — branding is everything, after all) is a sparsely populated, decaying campus of disillusionment. I suppose the details would count as spoilers, so we’ll leave it at this: Earth is in trouble. Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a robot in the shape of a 10-year-old girl, needs to rally some special humans to fix things. She recruits disillusioned tinkerer Frank Walker (Clooney), recently banished from Tomorrowland, and NASA-obsessed teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). If they can get to the other side, they’ll have to deal with fatalistic authority figure David Nix (Hugh Laurie).
If it sounds like every other sci-fi film you can name… well, congratulations, you’re able to point out something that no one at Disney could. Tomorrowland has originality and even philosophy in its ideas, but deploys them via a chosen-one plot so overdone that clones can be found even in the last few months (Divergent, Jupiter Ascending, etc.)
When Bird is able to pack his ideas into a captivating sequence, he’s effective at conjuring some complex emotional tones. Unfortunately, most of Tomorrowland’s running time is instead spent on procedural elements — going to the place to get the thing, convincing one character to act, dodging the fully-dispensable mid-level bad guys. One wonders how so much standard-issue stuff made it into a Bird picture.
And speaking of standard-issue stuff: I’m far from a Disney hater, but the self-obsession in this one is a bit much. When the film takes a detour through the “It’s a Small World” ride, you’ll cringe; when the action moves to a toy store packed with Disney paraphernalia, you’ll groan. Tomorrowland’s heart is in the right place, but the rest of it must obey the Mouse House masters.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark