Is “Tomorrowland” disjointed? I hardly think the admittedly shaky, but successful juggling of multiple genres constitutes erratic storytelling. Is “Tomorrowland” slightly contradictory in its lamentation of modern society’s obsession with the apocalypse whilst nearly depicting the very same thing in the end? Yes, but those contradictions come with a worthwhile point. Is “Tomorrowland” preachy? Only if you have a problem with what’s being preached. The cynical among us have taken issue with what they believe are half-hearted attempts at inspiring wonder and optimism in the rest of us. Considering my incredibly opposite reaction to said attempts, I can only infer that Brad Bird’s picture requires a level of starry-eyed idealism not found in the majority of critics. Take note, this opus is for optimists, and you can count me among them.
“Tomorrowland” teaches a timely and important message regarding the psyche of society at large, heady stuff for a kid’s flick for sure, but something every child should witness if they have the chance. In Bird’s version of the world, one not far off from the truth, NASA is on the verge of utter shutdown, media is pre-occupied with all things dark and dystopian, and pessimism is modus operandi as war and environmental disaster rule the news. Britt Robertson is infinitely likable as the high school heroine with an engineer father and extreme smarts of her own, and George Clooney is appropriately irrascible as the former dreamer turned old. His hopes have been dashed, his unrequited young love unfulfilled, and the promise of that wonderous Tomorrowland he witnessed as a child destroyed. He is the quintessential jaded older gentleman circa now, 60’s upbringing and all. That is, until Casey comes along. Despite Clooney’s aptitude for the role, it’s difficult not to wonder if swapping characters with Hugh Laurie would’ve worked more wonders. Laurie is the man at the top of Tomorrowland, a scientist even more far gone than Clooney’s Frank in the realm of curmudgeonly brilliance gone awry. He plays it to the hilt, but Hugh Laurie as an ornery genius with a heart of gold? You know where this is going. As “little girl” Athena, Raffey Cassidy deftly maneuvers between the purposeful programming of an “audio-animatronic,” what robots are called, and that sweet soul we all know is beaming underneath. Her decades-long quasi-romance with Frank has been taken to task for evoking pedophillic connotations, a sure sign the media landscape of real world 2015 is in dire straits if there ever was one, because all true romantic inclinations are obviously past-tense in the context of the film. Even still, she’s a robot who doesn’t age. Come on, people. One major flaw, a common mistake among movies aimed at kids, is the choice to peg Robertson’s Casey as some sort of messiah figure for Tomorrowland, the one person with the power to change everything. In a story that seeks to call to arms the dreamers of the world that may be watching, it’s somewhat incongruous to offer up a single individual as the shining light. Fortunately this is corrected in the last scene, a finale that nearly caused some eye-rolling of my own, but didn’t because…I’m an optimist. Scott Chambliss’ production design, from Tomorrowland itself to the trinket-filled relic shop where robotic fisticuffs throw our heroes into disarray, is commendably transporting. Ditto the colorful visual effects, especially during an early tour of Tomorrowland that, for all intents and purposes, made me feel like a kid again. There’s a sense of Spielbergian awe in every frame of this film, and that’s something we rarely see anymore, particularly since Spielberg apparently lost sight of that kid inside. For all the hate that he gets, Damon Lindelof’s script never veers into eye-rolling camp or convenient plot devices, and the ending reveal doesn’t disappoint.
To those who were disappointed: perhaps this is a testament to the drawback of too much information. For while the majority of this movie’s secrets were kept, well, secret, the internet offers further investment in a film’s possibilities, often beyond reasonable expectation. But nothing I’ve written will matter if you’re not approaching this movie with a friendly smile. Those approaching with any iota of indifference will probably walk away shaking their head at what they perceive to be a well-meaning lecture, but a lecture nonetheless. Certainly, the villain’s climactic speech sounds like intelligentsia screaming at the Average Joes of the world, but that’s why he’s the villain. Casey, Frank, and Athena believe in those Joes, and I do too.