Tomorrowland, the new Disney film from director Brad Bird and starring George Clooney, is very much a movie for dreamers and Disney fans. The film’s underlying message that optimism, determination, and hope can conquer any challenge and make anything possible is presented via a world that melds our “boring” reality with a neo-60’s dystopian sci-fi alternate dimension that Walt Disney himself would certainly be proud of. Special effects, sanitized action sequences, and just a dash of comedy round out a film that, while looking pretty and telling a heartfelt story, also sadly feels a little too disjointed and by-the-numbers at times.
The film starts off with a dual narrative in which intrepid young inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) travels to the 1964 World’s Fair to show off the jetpack he created. There he meets a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who, after seeing how determined he is to make the world a better place with his inventions, invites Frank into a secret dystopian world called Tomorrowland (the entrance to which is cheekily hidden in the “It’s a Small World” Disney ride). Meanwhile, in the present day, teenage genius Casey Newton (Brit Robertson) discovers a mysterious pin after being arrested for trying to sabotage the company that is costing her father (Tim McGraw in one of the film’s oddest cameos) his job. When she touches the pin, she is suddenly whisked away to Tomorrowland as well and she soon embarks on a quest that will have her crossing paths with an older, disillusioned Frank (Clooney).
These dual narratives and the frequency with which the film switches between them makes Tomorrowland’s opening act feel a little confusing and sluggish but once Casey leaves on her quest to discover the origins of the pin, things start to pick up. In typical Disney fashion, there’s plenty of light-hearted dialogue mixed in with proselytizing about Casey’s destiny and her desire to save the world and also plenty of action, explosions, and even the occasional fight scene (including a hilarious fight set in a space-themed novelty shop which features comedic actors Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn). Once Clooney’s Frank enters the picture, things get even crazier as Frank, Casey, and Athena venture back into Tomorrowland to try and reason with the dystopian city’s coldly indifferent leader David Nix (Hugh Laurie).
As ambitious and grand as Tomorrowland’s scope is, all of the film’s moving parts sadly don’t fit together well enough to keep the tempo consistent. After focusing on him for the first twenty minutes or so, the film never really revisits young Frank’s exploits except via an occasional flashback which makes older Frank’s disillusionment feel odd and out of place, despite the fact that viewers eventually learn how he lost his faith in Tomorrowland. Meanwhile, Robertson’s Casey, while admirably pulling double duty as the film’s lead and as the main source of comic relief, is also woefully inconsistent in her behavior. She is constantly wondering just what the heck is going on and yet, despite only ever receiving vague or half-assed answers from Athena and Frank, continues to throw herself into the void of the unknown, somehow certain she’ll be alright despite her constant and blatant, well, uncertainty.
Hugh Laurie meanwhile does a decent job as the film’s villain but he receives so little screentime that it’s hard not to see him as a throwaway character instead of the main antagonistic force working against Frank’s and Casey’s efforts. Clooney definitely looks like he had fun playing the gruff, sarcastic counterpart to Casey’s younger determination but the fact that he’s constantly shuffling her off to the next trans-dimensional setpiece means it’s hard to believe they formed any sort of special bond by the end (even though they supposedly did). The one standout character who didn’t falter in any regard is Athena. Young 13-year-old Raffey Cassidy’s performance strikes a perfect balance between child-like wit and dystopian aloofness and the fact that she often displays more wisdom than Casey or even Frank just makes her all the more entertaining to watch.
While Tomorrowland is certainly a movie that kids can enjoy, it also addresses more mature themes such as the end of the world, death, and the perils of unimpeded progress. There’s also a very weird sort of romantic relationship that is alluded to which won’t be revealed here because of spoilers but which might make you quirk your eyebrow at its inclusion in a Disney film. Lastly, the film’s ending, while entertaining, also feels very predictable and just a little too hunky dory (though it’s unlikely that the film’s target audience, i.e. kids and young adults, will mind). Even with these flaws, Tomorrowland is still a fun visual feast of CGI effects, coming-of-age heroism, and clean humor that can delight viewers of all ages. Just make sure you’re ready for a long haul as the film’s 2-hour runtime is definitely noticeable.
Tomorrowland may not be the most consistent or accessible Disney film but it does manage to repackage the classic Disney charm and present it in a way that modern audiences will appreciate. Within its framework is a story that you’ve likely seen played out many times before but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch, especially when it’s set in a bright, futuristic world that embodies the limitless potential of our future.