The future can be scary. The endless string of dystopian blockbusters has convinced us there is no hope for this world. It is not “if,” but “when” our civilization, as we know it, will end. We’ll all live like Mad Max, Katniss Everdeen (“Hunger Games”), or Beatrice Prior (“Divergent”). Then again, leave it to Disney for a different point of view.
Writer-director-producer Brad Bird (“Ratatouille,” “Incredibles”) turned down the chance to direct the next “Star Wars” movie for this optimistic family feature. He begins “Tomorrowland” by reminding us there was a time when we all saw our future as bright, cheerful and promising. We couldn’t wait to see flying cars and experience time travel.
The story is narrated by George Clooney, as Frank Walker, a not-so-believable grumpy old man. It starts at the 1964 World’s Fair. We hear “A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow,” sung by cowboy Rex Allen. That GE exhibit later became Disney’s Carousel of Progress.
The real stars are teenager Casey Newton, played by 25-year-old Brit Robertson, and the mysterious Athena, in a breakout role for 12-year-old Raffey Cassidy. Robertson, a veteran actress, who can still easily pass for a teener, is comfortable in the lead, while Raffey employs her hypnotic blue eyes and commanding presence to steal every scene.
Casey happens upon a “magic” pin that transports her to a beautiful “Emerald City” where everything is fantastic and wonderful. There are only a few pins in existence, but our cynical side says these pins are already on sale for five bucks at every Disney park. Casey is fascinated by this new world, but unfortunately, her visit is temporary.
Disney gave its Imagineers a jog in the park and a $280 million dollar budget to create this brave new world. We are reminded that “imagination is more important than knowledge,” which carries some merit, but is somewhat of a stretch. Anyway, Bird is able to deliver a fairly traditional Disney Saturday matinee infused with a visionary look into the future. However, he also includes a much-needed message of hope.
Naturally, there is a Disney heavy, played without much snarl by Hugh Laurie (TV’s “House”). Much like some senseless Facebook gadflies, Nix lives to spread a message of darkness and despair. Weak-minded followers eagerly pile on that bandwagon while news outlets sensationalize each event as more catastrophic than the last.
As they discover their shared destiny, Frank, who had been a boy-genius inventor, reluctantly agrees to join Casey, who is bursting with scientific curiosity. Their mission is to unearth the secrets of that faraway place, somewhere in time and space. Assisted by Athena, they are not sure who to trust or where this quest will lead.
As Frank’s home is under siege, we are entertained by his gadget-laden defense shield, seemingly designed by “Home Alone’s” Kevin McCallister. The clean-cut men in black struggle to break through every barrier, so Frank and Casey eventually jump into his empty bathtub and embark on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
This is not the most philosophically enlightening movie ever, but is a nice change of pace for everyone, especially for families and today’s children. It’s overly ambitious, but perfectly entertaining, mildly amusing and could generate sensible discussion.
“Tomorrowland” is 130 minutes and rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements and language. Uncle Walt conceived the theme park of the same name to showcase the future and inspire imagination. It’s easy to wallow in despair, so Disney celebrates those who work to make a positive impact on the world.
Interestingly enough, it is Nix who reminds us, “Every day is the opportunity for a better tomorrow.” It’s not a Pollyanna message of simply thinking happy thoughts, but invites us to consider and create alternatives that are part of the solution. Or, maybe we’re like Harold from “Dumb and Dumber,” when Mary says his chances of dating her are one in a million, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance, yeah!”
Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: B+