By Laurie Coker
As a child, I had opportunity to visit Disneyland with my family. I remember standing in awe when we visited Disney’s “Tomorrowland” looking at the people mover mono-rail, moving sidewalks, space travel rides and exhibits, and other astonishing things. In that same vein and with the Walt Disney’s incredible visions in mind, Disney and director Brad Bird along with a host of co-writers, brings viewers Tomorrowland – a optimistic look at the future, putting it into the hands of artist of all kinds. Visually extraordinary, Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, while cute in character, amusing in its basic premise comes across a tad to thematically preachy and more importantly, it seems to plan big, but falls short.
The film opens with Clooney, as Frank, a scientist and pessimistic former visionary, narrating to a camera (us) with the voice of a young woman piping in periodically from somewhere off camera. She is Casey, played by super adorable Brittany Robertson, a much younger, super-smart teen idealist. They both, he as a boy and she currently, have been given pins from a pretty girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). Frank, who received the pin as a boy lives as a recluse and Casey, “encouraged” by Athena, seeks him out and they are off on an adventure that might just save humanity from itself.
At its core, Tomorrowland is a film of optimism and hope – hope perched on the shoulders of the young and idealistic – in this case, Casey. It is a call out, to promising innovators and communities at large, inspiring people to initiate positive, mindful action to prompt needed global change. Since Tomorrowland is a Disney production, one can expect story geared toward all ages, but even this idea seems muddled in mixed messages. We have cynical adults and optimistic children, a world of unrealized opportunities and colossal human screw ups and we have David Nix (Laurie), a man of the future, who seems as lost as the rest of us. Laurie, while perfect, has some of the preachy segments Bird has to offer.
My guest, the father of three young children, quickly pointed out, when I told him I enjoyed the film for the most part, that it includes a good deal of violence, including robots who vaporize human police officers just doing their jobs and a little girl/android used as an explosive device. In one scene Casey, so enraged by the actions of human-looking robots pent on eliminating Frank and her, takes a baseball bat to one – repeatedly striking it over and over and over again, until Frank finely takes the weapon away. This could easily confuse kids, perhaps, but I can’t help but think my grandson would LOVE it. He seems to understand real versus imaginary pretty well. Still these messages are there and in living Disney color.
Like Walt Disney himself, Bird has a vision, but unlike the production company namesake, Bird never quite lives up. Fortunately, Robertson expresses a youthful vitality and hope that buoys the film and her Casey has a contagious optimism. She’s bubbly and adorable and next to Frank’s disparagement, as played wonderfully by Clooney, she is truly a breath of unpolluted air – like Tomorrowland. If we had been privy to more time with the film’s leads and less time with superfluous chase scenes, the film might be better. The imagery of Tomorrowland is spectacular from start to finish, and I felt like a child again when we travel back with Frank to his youth.
I still contend that Tomorrowland entertains and will amuse kids and adults alike, but others might see it the way my friend does. Heed the PG-13 rating. It seems theme takes place over storytelling here, even with the delightful cast, but cinematographic vision trumps them all. I am placing a C+/B- in my grade book. I wish I had taken my grandson and might still.