By Kyle G. King. Imagine this: a young boy lectures a man in a suit about the merit of inventing new things “just for fun”. A jetpack doesn’t have to actually function in order to make the world a better place; rather the idea itself can inspire the idea that “anything is possible”. Walt Disney might shed a tear watching Brad Bird bring this very scene to life in the latest live-action picture based on a Disney attraction (see Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion). Tomorrowland is upon us.
It’s an ingenious stroke of true family-friendly artistry on the part of director Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof, two men who have placed real thematic heft on the shoulders of children over adults. Between adolescent protagonist Casey Newton (played by relative newcomer Brit Robertson) and pint-sized leading action hero Athena (played by 12 year old wunderkind Raffey Cassidy), Tomorrowland makes it extremely relatable for younger viewers, putting iconic leading man George Clooney in a stirring supporting role. While its story and appeal is approachable and enjoyable for all ages, the film is 100% a sales pitch to the budding minds of young scientists and engineers all around the world. Its message is clear and echos Walt Disney’s famous mantra, “if you can dream it, you can do it.”
Casey Newton isn’t your typical high school student. While she does like to sneak out of the house, it’s not to hang with friends or boys, it’s either to single-handedly bring down a NASA launch, or to embark on a quest into another dimension. Casey has been selected as an elite few with passage to another world, a world “where nothing is impossible”, where humans can live without distractions and create and innovate their wildest technological dreams with no restrictions: Tomorrowland. But not all is as it seems to be in this place of wonder, as Casey soon discovers with help from exiled kid innovator turned greying curmudgeon-scientist Frank Walker, and similarly deported 12 year-old Terminator, Athena.
Tomorrowland pleads with its audience to dream alongside it as it twists, turns, and backflips through familiar and unfamiliar worlds of past, present, future, and other dimensions. But not unlike the jetpack itself as a ride of wonder and grandeur, Tomorrowland still lacks a true working function as a whole congruent story. It’s too caught up in its own prophecy, and the plot begins to muffle once its climax arrives. The reveal that comes with it weakens its commentary on the doomed nature of modern day living. Hugh Laurie as David Nix — the makeshift ruler of Tomorrowland — begins as a great source of “parents just don’t understand” to help prop up Team Kid, but his eventual pseudo-villain turn could never once be considered threatening. The other villains at play smirk non-threateningly yet blast police officers into dust with handheld lasers — truly another stroke of Disney family friendly greatness — they give chase and terrorize the heroes but they amount to nothing more than empty shells.
Well-orchestrated action sequences tear apart Frank’s hideout home with portals, magnetics walls, bathtubs that act as rocketships, and a fight sequence in a toy shop between the tiny Athena and two laser-welding androids. That’s all fine family fun in Bird’s world of comic action. And a top notch cast is able to win you over enough to root for them, but what ultimately lets you down is a befuddled ending that leans on the arc of “the chosen one” story trope. In what is respectfully hailed as a film of real originality, it’s disappointing to see its freshness quickly rely on old tricks to get it through to the credits.
What Tomorrowland aims to do is inspire the great minds of the next generation, and it never disappoints. While a weekend at the movies could easily be one filled with raunchy humor about a capella singers, or the barren wasteland of a dystopian future, Tomorrowland offers hope and says the future is what we will make of it. If you’re a child — literally or only at heart — Tomorrowland should not be missed. The jetpack might not fly straight, but dang it, it’s a really fun ride nonetheless.