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Three Views: Tomorrowland

May 22, 2015

Tomorrowland Poster

Tomorrowland – A Walt Disney Studios Release

http://movies.disney.com/tomorrowland/

Release Date: May 22nd, 2015
Rated PG for violence
Running Time: 130 minutes

Brad Bird (director)

Damon Lindelof (screenplay)
Brad Bird (screenplay)

Michael Giacchino (music)

George Clooney as Frank Walker
Hugh Laurie as Nix
Britt Robertson as Casey Newton
Raffey Cassidy as Athena
Tim McGraw as Eddie Newton
Kathryn Hahn as Ursula
Keegan-Michael Key as Hugo
Thomas Robinson as Young Frank Walker
Pierce Gagnon as Nate Newton
Matthew MacCaull as Dave Clark

Tomorrowland

Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) in Tomorrowland.

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Tomorrowland Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

When you look at the filmography of Brad Bird, it’s easy to see why he’s considered one of the best directors currently working, having delivered three of the greatest animated films of all time with his wonderful debut The Iron Giant in 1999, followed by the two Pixar masterpieces The Incredibles and Ratatouille.  Even his switch to live action in 2011 with the surprisingly successful franchise reboot Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, felt like a seamless transition for him.

These are all reasons why expectations are so high for Tomorrowland, his latest project which has been shrouded in secrecy since the beginning.  As expected, there are a lot of interesting ideas behind the story, and some wonderfully imaginative sequences here, a celebration of dreamers that feels refreshingly optimistic.  And if the film itself can’t quite live up to the potential of what it’s trying to say, this is partially because Brad Bird’s track record is so strong, that his latest work was always going to be judged against these lofty comparisons.  But some of the parts here are so good, that even if they don’t quite add up to a completely cohesive whole, it’s still a solidly entertaining effort overall.

The story opens with a nicely done prologue that drums up intrigue while introducing us to grizzled inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) and young dreamer Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), who are talking about a mysterious project involving the future, before the narrative jumps back to show us how the two came to be working together.  After being sent to jail for trying to disrupt the demolition of a NASA launching site where her father (Tim McGraw) works, Casey finds a mysterious pin amongst her stuff, that seemingly transports her to a futuristic world every time she touches it.  The pin brings her into contact with Frank Walker, the only person who understands what these visions actually represent.

The 1964 New York World’s Fair, where the charming early flashbacks take place, is a great jumping off point for any story, a point in time when people looked to the future with promise instead of despair.  I’ve always been fascinated by how the original Tomorrowland attraction offered a representation of Walt Disney’s own dreams for a brighter future possible through science, and there are some great conspiracy theories suggesting that his theme parks were attempts to build a perfect utopian society, with secret passageways and hidden spaces where some of the world’s greatest minds could converge.  Because of this, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that Tomorrowland doesn’t delve even deeper into these ideas, or the rich history behind the studio, with nary a mention of Walt Disney himself.

At times, the film even feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for these reasons, focusing too much on explaining some things, and not spending enough time exploring others, rarely going as deep as the story could have gone.  The first half plays almost like a mystery and asks a lot of questions, which is understandable for a film about the importance of wonder and imagination.  But the buildup can’t quite match the potential of the payoff, taking a little too long to get the titular place, and not spending nearly enough time there once we do.  The whole finale feels a touch rushed, and they could have easily spent more time developing the mysterious villain known only as Nix (Hugh Laurie), whose nicely written monologue near the end provides one of the best and most genuinely thought provoking moments.

Things do kick up a notch when George Clooney reappears almost exactly halfway through the 130 minutes, and his charming presence helps elevate the material.  The film is filled with inventive images and visual flair, and there are some very well done sequences here, showcasing Brad Bird’s ingenuity as a filmmaker, allowing him to let loose and fire on all cylinders.  This includes an exciting home invasion scene that finds inventive ways to dispense of humanoid robots, and an action set piece in a memorabilia shop that is filled with delightfully geeky references.  A sequence taking place in the Eiffel Tower is one of the best explorations of the film’s backstory, involving a secret society known as Plus Ultra.

Sometimes it feels like this vision is being stretched between Brad Bird, screenwriter Damon Lindelof, and the studio, who all bring unique ideas to the table, but sometimes seem to be pulling the film in slightly different directions.  I think it would be fascinating to read an early draft of the screenplay, which was initially titled 1952, or see a director’s cut that restores the gorgeous animated sequences involving Nikola Tesla, which have already been released online.  At the very least, the conversation we are left with about the perfectly enjoyable family adventure that is, versus the high minded science fiction knockout that could have been, is a fascinating one to have.

Because even if all of these ideas aren’t fully explored in the actual narrative, there is still a lot of great mythology behind Tomorrowland, and the film does get extra points for having more on its mind than the majority of summer entertainment.  The screenplay introduces some pretty big ideas about how many of us have become so numb to images of catastrophe and environmental ruin, that we have given up on hope and instead just accepted our fate.  And in its best moments, the film offers an inspiring celebration of those optimistic enough to actually dream up ways to make tomorrow a better place.

So if the film itself can’t quite deliver on the promise of the early expectations, and doesn’t entirely live up to the genuine potential of this admittedly great premise, Tomorrowland is still an ambitious and worthwhile piece of work from a major filmmaker, with a lot of intriguing ideas behind it.  This is a fun and thoroughly enjoyable ride, with an optimistic message that pays loving tribute to Walt Disney’s original ideas and values, and deserves to find an audience because of that.

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Tomorrowland Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Based on an original story by Brad Bird, Tomorrowland tells of a secret world tied to Disney’s Tomorrowland ride and the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York.  We are first introduced to Frank Walker (George Clooney) as an adult, where he is in a mysterious room with screens showing news clips of destruction around the world.  We then flashback to Frank as a kid (played by Thomas Robinson), where he enters a rocket pack he has designed into an inventor’s competition.  It is here that he first meets Nix (Hugh Laurie), who dismisses Frank’s invention and tells him to come back when he has something more worthwhile.  The young Athena (Raffey Cassidy) takes a liking to Frank though, and gives him a special pin that lets him follow her, Nix, and the other selected inventors into the secret world of Tomorrowland.

We then cut back to almost present time, where we meet up with Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), daughter of a NASA engineer, and trying to prevent the demolition of one of the launch pads at Cape Canaveral.  A dreamer and optimist who is always shooting for the stars, she is determined to follow through on what she believes in.  Unfortunately, her sabotage of the construction site leads to her arrest.  When she is bailed out of prison, she finds a mysterious pin (like Frank was given as a child) with her personal effects, and discovers that when she touches it she is able to see the world of Tomorrowland.

This leads to her becoming obsessed with finding out how to actually get to this world and through internet searches she ends up on a path that leads her to Frank, now in exile and locked in a prison of his own creation.  With Casey’s ‘interference,’ the plans and situations connecting Frank to Tomorrowland that were set in motion around 50 years prior finally are forced to be confronted.  And her optimism just might change the course of the regular world as well.

Tomorrowland centres around an interesting concept, and one that takes a very careful execution.  This is certainly an ambitious film and in a era of sequels, it is nice to see an original concept on screens instead.  That being said, the film and script does suffer from some pacing problems and both feels overly explanatory at times while also not delving as deep into other elements of the story.  But even so, the film does pick up as it goes along and is a fun fantasy-action film for the summer months.  The cast play their roles well, and the design of the world of Tomorrowland is visually interesting.  Coming in at 2 hours, 10 minutes, it feels a little long, but for families with kids around 10+, this film is worth checking out.

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Tomorrowland Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Tomorrowland is the latest Disney feature that deals with his utopian vision without ever mentioning Disney by name. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is the teenage daughter of a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw) who is using her technical skills to sabotage the dismantling of the Florida space center. She is caught and taken to jail, and upon release discovers a T pin in her bag. As a boy, Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) had brought his home made jet pack to the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Though it did not win a prize from the judge named Nix (Hugh Laurie), the young girl with Nix called Athena (Raffey Cassidy) gave Frank a special T pin and invited him to follow them.  Both Casey and Frank found the T pin took them to another dimension and the futuristic city of Tomorrowland. After a brief visit, Casey is taken by Athena to meet a now middle aged and cynical Frank (George Clooney). In a world racing toward destruction on many fronts, Casey’s optimism must overcome Frank’s pessimism to save Tomorrowland.

Co-written with Damon Lindelof and directed by Brad Bird, Tomorrowland is a bit uneven but carries an important if simplistic message that young viewers should find inspiring. Though the scenes in Tomorrowland itself are unfortunately brief, the film moves along with a nice balance of script and action and the cast, special effects and symphonic Michael Giaccino score are all as good as one could expect from the Disney studio.

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Consensus: Even if Tomorrowland can’t quite live up to the great potential of its premise, this is a still a fun adventure film from director Brad Bird, that boasts plenty of intriguing ideas and has a refreshingly optimistic message about the future. ★★★ (out of 4)

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