A sort of noisy children’s version of “Men In Black,” “Tomorrowland” is the pure essence of Disney. Structured like a thrill ride in one of the entertainment conglomerate’s theme parks, director Brad Bird’s (“The Incredibles,” “Up”) film is silly and a bit naive, but filled with a sense of wonder. It’s also beautifully, gloriously uplifting.
Britt Robertson stars as Casey Newton, a teenager worried that the ultimate shutdown of a NASA facility will cost her engineer dad (Tim McGraw) his job. Mysteriously given a pin that, when touched, transports her for a short time to a magical futuristic city, she becomes determined to find out the secret behind this marvel. This takes her to a toy store in Houston, where two robots disguised as humans (Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key) attempt to take the pin from her, and ultimately to the isolated house of disgruntled scientist Frank Walker (George Clooney, in high curmudgeon mode), who knows the secrets of the pin and the city.
Turns out that Tomorrowland is a place in another dimension where the planet’s greatest thinkers have created a perfect world. But it’s been in decline for ages, ruled over by bad guy Nix (Hugh Laurie, channeling Dr. Evil), whose army of robots has been chasing our plucky heroine. It seems that Nix, aware of all the problems that have been besetting Earth – climate change, warfare, you know the drill – has been publicizing a reality in which Earth will totally collapse, hoping that its inhabitants will rouse themselves and change the course of history. Instead, they have embraced chaos, and now it seems Casey is The Only Person Who Can Save The Planet (or something like that – the screenplay is a bit incoherent).
Filled with nostalgia for the kind of future Disney envisioned when he built the original Tomorrowland theme park in the 1950s, Bird’s film borrows sci-fi tropes from “The Matrix,” “Stargate” and other films, mooshing them together with CGI action sequences (one of which, a rocket lifting off from the Eiffel Tower, is truly spectacular) and enough philosophizing to fill several TED talks. It’s kind of an unholy mess, but never less than interesting and engaging.
More than that, the film is, in the best sense, a rallying cry for all that is best in us. Casey represents all the people who still have faith in the human race, what “Tomorrowland” calls “the dreamers,” and her quest to save the Earth is a fight against cynicism and despair. This is emphasized by a final sequence in which the children of the world are tasked with finding those very dreamers, who are then given the pins that will transport them to the futuristic city of the title. And in a final scene that is filled with a sense of awe and unlimited possibility, “Tomorrowland” suggests that no matter how bad things get, we can still grab hold of the future and make it a better place.
B Cast: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Tim McGraw
Director: Brad Bird
Length: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Rating: PG (sci-fi action and violence, and some language)
Apex: Beaver Creek. Raleigh: Brier Creek, Carmike, Grande, IMAX Theatre at Marbles, Mission Valley, North Hills, Six Forks. Cary: Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Lumina, Timberlyne. Roxboro: Palace. Morrisville: Park Place. Smithfield: Smithfield. Durham: Southpoint, Wynnsong. Garner: White Oak.