TOMORROWLAND review! Gone Elsewhere Exclusive!

Standard

Tomorrowland_poster“Whatever you think this movie is about, you’re wrong.” So began Brad Bird’s introduction to his latest film Tomorrowland. He immediately clarified by saying that it’s more accurate to declare that you’re only partially right. Mr. Bird has been adamant on social media and in interviews about not wanting to ‘spoil’ too much and requesting that the public to exercise self-control in trailer-watching & analyzation. In that vein I will announce that mild spoilers are included but you won’t find much detail that affects the story.

I had the privilege of attending a special screening of the film at a fundraiser for the Walt Disney Family Museum held at the ILM/Lucasfilm theater in the Presidio. Bird was there and had a great deal to say about the legacy and influence of Walt Disney on the film but also on his idea of the future in general. Disney and his companies, partnerships & employees developed many technologies that are old news to us but were really quite revolutionary. His original ideas for EPCOT inspired what Tomorrowland in the movie is designed to be.

Bird believes that we as a society have become disenchanted with the idea of the future (every YA novel must be set in a dystopia) whereas not that long ago the future was full of endless possibilities, solutions, peace & harmony. This is stated quite obviously in the “second” opening of the film where teenager Casey Newton (played endearingly by 25-year-old Britt Robertson) is frustrated with the fact that everyone is describing the plight of the world but no one wants to fix it. Her father works for NASA, and she thinks of him as a genius, but his position is set to end when the site that he is working at is scheduled to be torn down. Casey tries to find a way to sabotage the equipment meant for dismantling and this is why we find her at the police station with the Tomorrowland pin as seen in the teaser-trailer and those that followed. That pin leads her from Florida to Houston to New York (& beyond) to find the man who knows what it all means.

I earlier said “second” opening of the film because the first is told by Frank Walker (George Clooney) about what happened to him at the 1964 World’s Fair (again a huge Disney connection). A young John Francis Walker (played with equal amounts determination and wonder by Thomas Robinson) has invented something that he believes could inspire people, but it doesn’t quite work. It does, however, catch the attention of a young girl, Athena (a very impressive Raffey Cassidy who I can’t talk more about without fear of spoiling too much), and she invites him to be a part of something much larger than even the World’s Fair: Tomorrowland. The relationship between Frank & Athena is shown only for a few minutes in the opening and later in some flashback snippets, but I wish we could have seen more of that development. You later find out that their interactions are pretty much the emotional undercurrent of the film and I kind of felt shortchanged by what we weren’t shown.

One of the main complaints I had about Lost was that it featured excellent build-up with very little or wholly unsatisfying payoff. And so it is with Tomorrowland, so I believe co-writer Damon Lindelof brought that feeling over to the big screen. The first hour-plus moves briskly in a race to find out what is going on. We are moored to Casey and find out the surprises just as she does. There is much more going on that we just assume will be explained later, but much of that explanation never comes. When the “villain” (Governor Nix) shows up in the last-third it kind of seems like he was forced to be there because someone said they needed a villain. When this villain explains his evil plot in a monologue I couldn’t help but think back to The Incredibles where Bird, through various characters, made fun of such things, but he uses it here to an almost boredom-inducing length.

The resolution to the “problem” doesn’t feel like enough and the ending montage is far too on-the-nose to be effective. There is an environmentalist undercurrent (maybe overcurrent…the real John Francis was a ‘planetwalker’ after all) that is obvious as well. While much of the buildup never quite paid off, many of the references were too transparent to remain fresh. Scientists/engineers named Newton, a person concerned about the destruction of the earth named after a person concerned about the destruction of the earth, a young girl full of wisdom, courage & inspiration named after the goddess of…well, you see where I’m going. At the end of it all I felt that there was so much potential, a great ‘muchness’ welling up inside of the film, that they ended up focusing on the wrong thing and wrapped it up with the standard ‘large thing falls on villain and everyone is saved’ kind of thing.

Hopefully, though, it will inspire the youth to dream and really solve problems. I don’t feel that I’m too old and have given up on the future but Tomorrowland feels like a missed opportunity. The cast was wonderful (with the unfortunate exception of Hugh Laurie who was saddled with frowny dialogue and unclear motivations) and I was pleasantly surprised by Raffey Cassidy’s Athena who was wisely kept out of most of the trailers. There is a wonderful scene with Keegan-Michael Key & Kathryn Hahn as sci-fi collectible shop owners that is equal parts hilarious and terrifying. Sci-fi, comic & movie geeks & nerds will have a field day looking at everything contained in the store. Key gets one of the best entrances I’ve seen in a few years.

But I’d really love to see a movie about young Frank & Athena that follows them for 20 years.

My Grade: B (an A+ for the promise & a C- for that promise unrequited)

Tomorrowland opens in theaters nationwide on May 22nd.

18 responses »

  1. I think you missed several things, so I’ll take issue with your assessment.

    Hugh Laurie’s character was in the 1964 World’s Fair Hall of Science scenes; I think there was also an emotional undercurrent with Casey, her father and her brother as well as Casey’s own dream of exploring space. I think the movie works because Bird and Damon Lindelof followed a Ratatouille recipe and found a very interesting mix of various genre films. It’s certainly an original film and that alone is reason to celebrate.

    My only quibble with “Tomorrowland,” and it is minor, is the “Bickersons” beginning between Frank and Casey — although some might enjoy this rarely used technique. I loved the sets, the design, the performances, the music and the script. I agree the scene in the sci-fi collectibles shop was great and I also enjoyed the Steam Punk-influences in some scenes.

    Yes, the film is a bit preachy, but the message of optimism for tomorrow has almost disappeared in pop culture offerings. Frankly, I believe Americans and people of the world need a reminder that we all can choose which wolf to feed. It’s also interesting to note that the future Walt Disney envisioned, especially in his idea of EPCOT, remains completely relevant today despite his death in 1966.

  2. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment here Leo!

    I agree that the “Bickersons” shtick got old really fast. I left a ton of detail out of this review for fear of spoilers, such as Hugh Laurie’s early appearance. In my opinion they abandon him, and the rest of Casey’s family, for so long that any villainous motives or emotional ties (respectively) are practically lost.

    I also agree that we need a reminder of which wolf to feed. My point in this review is that the film tells us that in words, but doesn’t necessarily show us that in the story. A lot is left unexplained. Not that I need everything spelled out, but the inferred motivations and machinations are practically baseless.

    I know I will probably be in the minority amongst fellow hardcore Disney fans, but by the end there just didn’t seem to be a lot of ‘there’ there.

    Walt’s dream of EPCOT still inspires me. I don’t know why we haven’t attempted to make it a reality yet

  3. What’s Walt’s dream for EPCOT? Epcot’s its own amusement park. What did he want to do with it?

  4. EPCOT was never meant to be a theme/amusement park. The idea for Disney World was fairly different from what it became. Theme park(s) constituted one small area. The Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow was supposed to be the center showcase of everything. It was to be a self-contained and self-sustaining city where the best and brightest came together to solve problems and develop technologies we hadn’t even thought of yet.

    It’s best described by Walt himself in this video (beginning at 3:25ish) and in Part 3 that follows, if you’re interested.

  5. Basically a permanent World’s Fair community, with a slightly fascist, dystopian bent. Kind of a Stepford Wives community just for white people since we all know what Walt felt the ‘proper’ community should be.
    It’s interesting how far, from what I remember, EPCOT actually became. I’m sorry, but that video is scary knowing that Walt really wanted to build an actual community where people would actually live. Hell, it’s a completly enclosed environment. The guy wanted to put people in a freaking bubble. He actually wanted to put people into a zoo. And I can count at least three people who would do this immediately if it were offered today.

    Well done on the review, by the way. Nice work.

  6. Thank you. Glad you liked the review!

    Only the center of EPCOT was in a bubble but that is one of the parts I wasn’t so keen on. Seems more communist and utopian than fascist and dystopian.

    Please explain what we all know Walt felt the ‘proper’ community should be. Do you get all your news from Meryl Streep? Try this link (& video) on for size http://www.salon.com/2013/10/09/meet_floyd_norman_the_first_african_american_animator_at_disney_partner/

  7. His description of the logline being the whole movie is spot on. That logline contains a huge spoiler (in my opinion) that undermines some of the wonder of the beginning World’s Fair flashback, though. Thankfully I was not aware of it so I was ‘along for the ride’ (so to speak) until the disastrous ending. It’s unfortunate, really

  8. Pingback: ‘I See Movie’ of the Week: ‘The Poltergeist’ vs. ‘Tomorrowland’ | I See Movies

  9. Pingback: ‘I See Movie’ of the Week Winner: ‘The Poltergeist’ vs. ‘Tomorrowland’ | I See Movies

  10. Jurassic World looks like it has twice as much CGI and practical effects yet cost $40m less to make than Tomorrowland. Where did all the money go in this film?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s