Tomorrowland is a sci-fi/adventure film from director Brad Bird and Walt Disney Studios which takes the legend of the theme park attraction and expands it into a mythos. The film stars Britt Robertson (Under The Dome) as young ingenue Casey Newton who stumbles onto a futuristic paradise and George Clooney as Frank Walker, a boy genius now grown exile disillusioned from the promise of tomorrow.
Casey, while intelligent, is a bit of a restless soul and a troublemaker to boot. When she finds a pin among her effects after an arrest, she’s transported to the titular city in a breathtaking sequence that recalls Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz or even Leeloo in The Fifth Element, but without the Gaultier bandages. Casey, now filled with wonder and awe, seeks the help of Frank in getting back to Tomorrowland once the pin stops functioning. But when a shadowy organization (aren’t they always shadowy?) gets on her trail, it becomes a race against time. The film also stars Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw and Hugh Laurie.
Robertson and Clooney are game as is the rest of the cast. Casey is spunky, inquisitive and militantly optimistic. Frank is grizzled and burned out, and Clooney gives him a wistful melancholy. Frank is a man who had the future is his grasp and let it slip through his fingers. Casey is a girl who believes in the impossible and refuses to give up until the impossible has become reality. They are yin and yang, and they need each other if they are to prevent something terrible happening to our world and the city of tomorrow.
Tomorrowland is really about the power of optimism versus the drain of pessimism. Being a cynic is easy, and some of that ease is reflected in our culture and in our stories. It’s harder to paint a hopeful picture of our future, such as Gene Roddenberry did with Star Trek, than a dystopian tale such as James Cameron’s Terminator saga. It’s easier to be a technophobe than a technophile because one allows you to fear something you don’t understand while the other asks you to rise to a level of understanding. It’s easier to be a naysayer than a yeasayer. There’s much more work involved with the latter, and that keys into one of the major themes of the film.
Brad Bird’s work in this movie is stellar. Bird was trained in the halls of Disney, at CalArts with a host of now-legends (John Lasseter, Tim Burton), and learned to harness the power of story. His films (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) are treasures and his move to live-action made it seem like he was directing blockbusters for decades, and in a sense, he was. More animators should become directors, and more live-action directors should try their hand at animation, because it often results in a purity of motion, structure and energy.
George Miller (Happy Feet, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Zack Snyder (Legend of the Guardians, Man of Steel) have benefitted from their time in animation, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street) are among a handful proving the transition works to outstanding effect. Point is, Brad Bird has become a master at this point and Tomorrowland is a completely unfettered vision that only a master, and only a master animator, could make.
I should note the fact that I love concept art. The way it looks, the way it feels, the way that concept art functions as an in-between from the expanses of imagination to the contours of real life. I specifically love futuristic cityscapes, and the extrapolation of a society into an evolved entity. It’s one of the few things that can communicate the idea of a city as a living organism. So this movie is catnip for me, the most direct translation of concept art to motion picture. Seeing the way the future metropolis of Tomorrowland operates and how it reignites the gee-whiz jetpack aesthetic from the 50s and 60s, streamlining and turbocharging it, is just pure imagination brought to life.
Furthermore, it’s the work of someone whose imagination has been unbounded by the constraints of reality and physical matter, who can conjure up people and objects like a wizard with just a pen and a pad. A mind like Brad Bird’s, and a team like Disney’s, is where the beauties and phantasmagories of Tomorrowland come from. I could try explaining it, but this isn’t that kind of review. You should simply see it for yourself.
Tomorrowland is a love letter to Walt Disney and Disney fans. Bird, with co-writers Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Jeff Jensen (formerly of Entertainment Weekly), present an outlook that refuses to be shaped by woe and grime. This is a tribute and a hearkening back to pulp digests, astonishing science fiction, tales of tomorrow and the youth of America who dared to be futurists. Visions of the future such as these got us to the moon and paved the information superhighway. Tomorrowland not only seeks to inspire, but is introspective enough to ask why did we stop being inspired.
Kudos to DP Claudio Miranda (Tron Legacy), designer Scott Chambliss (Star Trek [’09]) and composer Michael Giacchino who contributes a score that blends space age wonder with the whimsy of Disneyana. This is the best theme park adaptation yet, and while that may sound like a back-handed compliment, I can’t think of anyone better than Disney and Disney’s finest to pull it off.