Review by Ashe Coburn
Tomorrowland, a sci-fi blockbuster imagined by Disney and realized by Brad Bird, is a retro-futuristic adventure that falls just a bit short from the Tomorrowland we all hoped to experience.
Let me just start off by saying: I'm sure most people were very excited for the release of this film. It's everything we've been eating up in cinema today -- the future, technology, the state of our fragile earth, utopia vs. dystopia, and DISNEY!!!!1!1 Okay, so there actually wasn't as much Disney exploding all over the screen as expected, and the Tomorrowland that is realized in the film is actually Walt Disney's original plan for Epcot, but I digress... Let's get into it.
The film opens up with Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) (off-camera) who are trying to tell a story. They begin by interrupting each other trying to find the best place to begin this story of a place unlike any other. We begin with Frank as a boy-genius who traveled to the 1964 World's Fair with nothing but his Jetpack invention and hopes of inspiring the world around him. Here he meets Athena, a young girl who sees the dreamer and genius in Frank and hands him a Tomorrowland pin and asks him to follow her covertly. Frank jumps on the boat behind them in the familiar "It's A Small World" ride and before we know it, we've fallen into Tomorrowland! Frank spends time here before he is exiled back to the real world.
Casey Newton ends up coming upon Tomorrowland with a pin that was left for her by Athena, in hopes that she will save the future with the help of Frank. They are met with many obstacles such as "robot CIA" and interpersonal relations as they try to high tail it back to the last remaining gateway to Tomorrowland which was created by four of the greatest minds on the top of the Eiffel Tower (Tesla, Einstein, Verne, Eiffel). Sidenote: is Disney going to make a Tesla movie?! It is here in Tomorrowland that they will encounter Nix (Hugh Laurie) and fight for the future of Earth.
This film is visually stunning and imaginative, which really works for it since Disney and Tomorrowland is all about dreamers and imagination. Tomorrowland is obviously really heavy with the CGI world, but it is fantastical. It really helps you immerse yourself in a place that most people imagine they are when they visit Tomorrowland or even picture a retro-future in their dreams. The future looks clean, crisp, efficient, and hopeful. Not only is the world created with CGI (with portions of actual Disney locations), director Brad Bird didn't want to stick to the normal conventions of bluescreen. FILM GEEK ALERT! This has to be my favorite aspect of this movie, and it's a technical one: the scenes where you see Casey pick up the pin and she transports instantly to Tomorrowland is not actually shot in bluescreen. He wanted it to feel more tangible (or as tangible as one can be with a concept) and he executed it masterfully. This is such a difficult thing to do especially when the easier option is there.
Also, this movie is extremely action-packed. With future vehicles whipping around you every which way, there's even a scene where boy Frank is falling from a platform into Tomorrowland and trying to swim across the air to his jetpack for safety within moments of hitting the ground.
The cast is superb. Even with big names such as George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, and recognizable faces such as Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Judy Greer, and Tim McGraw (yes, country music superstar), everyone seems to fall into their characters perfectly. I admit, seeing Key show up was one of those "WHAT? WHAT'S HE DOING HERE?" moments but he played it so well and that moment of surprise passed. Hugh Laurie is also a hit. So much so that I'm sure most people preferred to pay more attention to him instead of Casey (I'll get to Casey later). He really feels like he's from the world of tomorrow!
I also want to note the relationship between Frank and Athena. The way this film dealt with these two and their interactions over space and time was simply beautiful. Frank as a boy loved her, but she was for all intents and purposes a robot, so she would stay that "young" forever. He blames her for having to leave Tomorrowland and ruining the rest of his life. As an adult, he and Athena (along with Casey) have to work together to fix the future and how their relationship matures is just so pure. It's nice when it comes off just pure instead of sort of weird. WELL ON YOU DISNEY/BIRD!
The first half of the movie really could have used a lot of trimming. Sorry, I just had to get it out there. It's hard to write about the good in this movie when that first half is still weighing me down. Don't get me wrong, even after all that exposition, once we were out of it, the movie really started to get going and that weight was lifted. But this might be a deal breaker for some. It's no surprise as well to find out that Damon Lindelof (Lost writer and producer) was the lead writer on this film and was probably the reason for the lengthy first half. We got a lot of backstory to our characters, but I honestly do not think we need to see Casey break into NASA twice. Overall, storytelling was very uneven.
On a related writing/character issue, I'm going to finally talk about Casey Newton, the female protagonist and the key to fixing the future. The idea of her character is great (especially by Disney standards): a bright young gal with her eyes towards the sky who also happens to have a lot of spunk. And I mean a whole lotta spunk. Too much in fact. It felt like this was the only character trait she had the entire film. In a three-dimensional film, she really felt two-dimensional, and it just really left me wanting something more from her. Especially since she spends most of the movie yelling at everybody when she isn't questioning them.
Even though this movie has its issues (::cough::script), it is still a solid movie. Especially when you consider the slew of apocalyptic films that have been taking over our cinemas, Disney figured out how to wedge Tomorrowland in there with a bit more of a shiny, happy, Disney ending filled with hope and prospects of the future. With that in mind, it's definitely a family film. Also, this film really is a testament to Brad Bird's directorial skills, being able to keep this running dialog afloat. So if you're especially a fan of his work, I recommend seeing it. If you're just a fan of Disney or the Tomorrowland theme park or an old sci-fi fan, you'd probably enjoy it cinematic-wise (so long as you can handle a heavy sprinkle of end-of-the-world action).
Therefore, this rating is just above three out of five pews. But that doesn't mean we all can't be Dreamers...
FINAL RATING: ★★★☆☆