Tomorrowland Brad Bird
Published May 21, 2015Given the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, it's a tad surprising that Disney hasn't made more movies based on rides or pavilions in their theme parks. It's a clever enough — if somewhat crass — cross-selling tactic to keep a brand energized and vital, but it's also a risk. Unlike Pirates, which had a sense of humour and a sense of whimsy to mask its manufactured marketing ploy veneer, with Tomorrowland — a nostalgic throwback nod to the '80s live-action adventure template — the superficiality and condescension of such an endeavour is particularly transparent.
The premise in and of itself has some potential: wide-eyed dreamer and ersatz genius Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) stumbles onto a seemingly magical pin that transports her to Tomorrowland, a futuristic society existing on a different plane of reality where inventors gather to develop progressive techniques for sustainment. Casey's a textbook archetype in an overly twee predicament. Her absent mother means she's a bit of a tomboy, and her predisposition to reach for the stars drives her towards some socially irresponsible behaviour and illegalities in the name of exploration. It also eventually leads her to the more realist and — in the context of the film — defeatist inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney), whose surly disposition stems from being expelled from Tomorrowland and being romantically scorned (as an 8-year-old).
Adventure stems from Casey's journey to learn more about Tomorrowland and eventually gain admission (the pin simply lets her view the city as a passenger) while avoiding attacks from a legion of advanced cyber-organisms. Since director Brad Bird's (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) strength is action, the occasional blowout between Casey and these robots are moderately kinetic; a destructive sequence at Frank's rural, booby-trapped abode proves to be highly entertaining, as does a comic store ruckus. Unfortunately, most of the rest of Tomorrowland involves endless amounts of exposition and painfully gauche attempts at humour that drag it down for most of the runtime. Worse is that it's far more interested in selling an unbelievably glib and patronizing message about optimism — or at least a highly problematic and naïve version of it — than it is in entertaining.
Since a surprising amount of energy is expended on Frank's lost love — Athena (Raffey Cassidy), an ass-kicking cyber-organism in the body of a child that accompanies Frank and Casey on their journey — there are an abundance of heavy-handed flashbacks to force emotion where there would otherwise be none. Similarly, Casey is given a lot of time to talk and demonstrate a general cutesiness that defines her character — she's a plucky, sexless, squeaky-clean Disney brochure of a human being — which would be easier to swallow if there were anything about her that was remotely human. Frank and Casey are merely cardboard cut-outs of "pessimism" and "optimism" as filtered through the eyes of a branch hell-bent on selling the idea that even ridiculous and implausible dreams can come true.
What's also problematic is that Casey is supposed to be some sort of genius. Despite this, she makes stupid decisions at every turn and never says anything that suggests she's ever been effectively challenged in her life. It's all wide-eyed idealism and sanctimony in a goofy cartoonish package; she's basically an airhead.
The eventual revelation of what Tomorrowland is and what it represents — and how we can all save the planet — is so unbelievably over-simplified that it borders on socially irresponsible. What's worse is that it does so with such a haughty sense of superiority that it actually enrages. If this over-long bit of consumer fluff at least had more action or some competently rendered humour or featured Tomorrowland for more than five minutes, it might have been easier to ignore its facile agenda. But as it stands, this bit of brash commercialism is the very embodiment of corporate manipulation.