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Review: Tomorrowland (2015)

Tomorrowland (2015)

Directed by: Brad Bird

Premise: A teenager (Britt Robertson) discovers a pin that transports her to another dimension. She then finds herself caught up in a larger struggle for the future of humanity.

What Works: Director Brad Bird has mostly worked in animation and in that form he has made some terrific films such as The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Tomorrowland is clearly influenced by animated features; it has a similar feel about its action and art direction and it has the same regard for logic and character as a lot of animated movies. The film translates the settings and the story into a physical form pretty well and the movie frequently looks great with convincing sets and costume design. Tomorrowland is also very well cast. The movie is led by Britt Robertson as a teenage dreamer who’s intellectual curiosity is matched by her optimism. She is paired with a cynical older man, played by George Clooney. The back and forth between Robertson and Clooney is generally enjoyable but the movie is nearly stolen by Raffey Cassidy as an android who brings them together. Tomorrowland has some very interesting ideas in it. The film does not really arrive at them until the end but the themes of Tomorrowland distinguish it from other sci-fi features. The concept of Tomorrowland is drawn from an attraction at the Disney theme parks and the movie is a throwback to the optimism and wonder associated with early Walt Disney pictures, and with Walt Disney himself. That upbeat outlook contrasts with the darker and more cynical sci-fi and fantasy films being made today and the movie suggests some provocative things about those optimistic and cynical worldviews.

What Doesn’t: As interesting as Tomorrowland’s ideas may be, the movie does not get to them until the very end of the picture and at that point these ideas come across as tagged on. This movie is too long. It takes forever to get going and a lot of the picture involves the characters traveling from one place to another with very little motivating them to do so. Along the way they are chased by mysterious assassins but why these assassins are after our heroes is never clear nor is where the characters are going and why. The body of the story is a series of disconnected sequences. This isn’t such a surprise given that Damon Lindelof shares co-screenwriting credit with Brad Bird. Lindelof has become the go-to writer for a lot of major sci-fi properties such as Lost, Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, and World War Z and one of the telltale qualities of projects he is associated with is a disconnected narrative. (To be fair to Lindelof, a lot of these other projects involved multiple writers and in some cases he was hired as a script doctor.) But the story of Tomorrowland is especially fragmented. It’s fine for films to have some mystery, but there also needs to be something motivating our characters and the story forward, pushing the action from one place to the next. When characters are provided with motivations they are usually silly, especially in the case of Clooney’s character. The film introduces him as a young inventor at the 1964 World’s Fair where he’s established as an optimistic boy. When the story resumes decades later he is a cynical older man but the reasons for that disillusionment are laughable. The problems with the story compound in the ending. There is nothing concrete at stake throughout Tomorrowland and that’s most apparent in the climax in which our heroes try to deactivate some major technological device. There is no immediate or obvious purpose for them to do so and it isn’t clear how taking down this piece of equipment is going to solve the vaguely defined problem. The filmmakers seem to want the characters—and us—to reject cynicism and embrace optimism but the issue is handled superficially and the ending is oversimplified.

Bottom Line: Tomorrowland is a movie with interesting ideas but it fails at basic storytelling mechanics. Despite the moviemakers’ attempts to inspire us, the film is really dull.

Episode: #544 (May 31, 2015)