‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Disney movie Tomorrowland is a mixed-up mess of a movie that almost manages to work. Ads for it indicate it is an adventure film. Actually, it doesn’t even quite fall into Adventureland or even its own title, but as a sort of slightly amusing version of “It’s a Small World.” The first half of the movie seems designed for the youngsters. Then the leads wind up in an adventure story that is punctuated by an extended debate on the hateful nature of most people, followed by a preachy happy ending. The writing is atrocious. Characters are called on to make preachy speeches that go nowhere.
The film begins with young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) bringing a not-quite-completed jet pack project to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Although rejected by the judges, a young woman (Raffey Cassidy) gives him a special pin. Wearing it, he gets transported to a magical land that has all sorts of futuristic devices. Then we see young Casey (Britt Robertson), a spunky mechanical genius of today who uses her abilities to try to block the demolition of Cape Canaveral, where her father works, as a way of keeping him on the job. After some adventures, she also gets a pin leading to Tomorrowland.
But after a few minutes there, she gets pushed back to our world and becomes the target of bad guys who turn out to be robots. A young girl, the same one that Frank met 50 years ago, rescues her. It turns out she’s Athena, a robot, and she drops Casey off at Frank’s house, where he has become a crusty old crank (George Clooney). They argue, the bad guys come and there’s a battle in which an older man and the teen kill a platoon of fighting robots and then fly a rocket to Tomorrowland, where they learn that our world is going to end in 60 days.
Joining with Athena, the two work to overcome the problem. Casey has been chosen, it seems, not only because she’s a genius, but because she’s a total optimist. And, as might be expected, she comes up with an answer to the real question of why we all on Planet Earth are killing ourselves, and even comes up with the solution.
There is more fighting between humans and robots, and Athena dies but manages to have a very long death scene in which she seems to display all the human emotions she had continually insisted she didn’t have. And then, world rescued, Casey and Frank send out human-looking robots to recruit dreamers. Wow!
The cast is good. Clooney, always charming, even when being crusty, is the key fulcrum. Robertson as Casey has the larger part and is also charming. She manages to be just about perfect without being obnoxious. Cassidy was quite good as robot Athena. Forced to emotionally underplay just about every scene, she managed to pull it off. Hugh Laurie as the governor of the future place was appropriately nasty for the bad guy.
The major flaw of the film is that it just could not decide what kind of film it wanted to be. It is a good movie for children with a nice feel of optimism and hope for the future. Most of the early focus is on the young boy and then the teen. It’s a happy little movie until about an hour in, when Casey, trying to find out about the magic pin, gets trapped in a weird store. It’s like going from Mary Poppins to Saw in about three seconds flat. Then it becomes a chase with robots that do almost no damage to the good guys until the end.
Strong science fiction needs a real back story, an explanation for why things are as they start out in the plot. This film barely touches on it except to occasionally refer to so-called earlier history when it needs a plot point. Think of the huge back story on Star Wars, which could have (and probably did) fill up books with information. Here, there was almost nothing.
But it is a nice kid’s movie. A lot of cute touches, and, except for robot Athena, only the bad guys get hurt. And there’s even a nice treacly Disney message at the end about dreamers. But be warned, it’s not much else.