Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie
Synopsis: Bound by a shared destiny, a teen bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.
It’s quite fitting that Tomorrowland, a film warning us against the collective torpor that sees us blindly edging towards a possible environmental disaster, should come from Disney, the movie industry’s long-time purveyor of magical dreams and fantasies. In many ways, the Mouse House has found it necessary to re-invent itself in more drastic ways than other studios in order to stay competitive; the family-friendly foundation of its product is almost a specialist niche today, something to keep the four-year-olds quiet while the six-year-olds play video games. Too often, the media vision of the future is of a grey dystopia in which the human spirit is crushed beneath the boot of authoritarian might instead of a peaceful, gleaming Utopia. Tomorrowland dared to show us that a sparkly future was still within our grasp, if only we were prepared to work for it. So, of course, we stayed away in our millions, and the movie barely made a profit. The human spirit, it seems, is only indomitable when faced with super-villains or dinosaurs…
Disney even got George Clooney (The Descendents, Gravity), one of the most bankable actors in the world, to star as Frank Walker, an irascible recluse who has turned his back on the present as he tries to engineer a way back to the elite world of the future from which he was banished in 1984. Twenty years before that, at the 1964 World’s Fair, a young Frank stowed away on a ride that secretly traversed dimensions for a lucky few, whisking them to a world unburdened by the lazy and the negative. Only those in possession of a special pin could gain entry to this fantastic world, and Frank received his from Athena (Raffey Cassidy – Snow White and the Huntsman), the daughter of David Nix (Hugh Laurie), the judge of the Fair’s ‘inventor of the future’ competition who dismissed Frank’s jetpack invention simply because it didn’t work.
Fast-forward fifty years, and defiantly optimistic teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) finds a pin like Frank’s amongst her belongings as she’s being released from detention after trying to sabotage the closure of the NASA plant at which her father (Tim McGraw – The Blind Side) is an engineer. The pin was placed there by Athena who, despite the passing of fifty years, is still a child. When Casey sets out to find where the pin came from, she not only puts her life in danger, but has to persuade the reluctant – and now middle-aged – Frank Barker to help her.
Tomorrowland is a rather peculiar clarion call in which Disney asks the world to return to a less jaundiced time; a time when it was normal to look forward to a bright new future rather than to dread what tomorrow might bring. A return to good old Disney values, really. It’s a decent effort, and Tomorrowland isn’t a bad movie – it just doesn’t feel as if it makes a strong enough case for its argument. We’d all like to live amongst shining spires in an untroubled world, and we all know that, barring a miraculous wholesale shift in national, religious and political ideologies, the prospect is nothing more than an impossible dream. So a movie like Tomorrowland should be packaged as a wistful fantasy rather than a message for today’s youth which amounts to little more than ‘if we just think positive, everything will be fine.’
Putting the film’s dubious didactic agenda to one side, it is possible to enjoy Tomorrowland as a harmless fantasy-adventure. The part of Frank Barker feels as if it was written for Harrison Ford, and it’s strangely fascinating to watch Clooney struggle to imprint his personality on a part that lacks the kind of suave charm with which he’s most comfortable. Elsewhere, Laurie tries hard to make a villain out of a character that simply isn’t written to be nasty enough. It’s true that Nix is more misguided than evil but, even so, it would have been nice if he’d been a little more ruthless for his cause. He does get the best quote of the movie as he rails against the self-destructive apathy of man – “You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. Explain that one!… All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint!” – and it’s neat that this exasperated wake-up call regarding the planet’s imminent destruction comes from the bad guy, but, sadly, Tomorrowland toys with such ideas instead of developing them further.
(Reviewed 29th October 2015)