Directed by Brad Bird
Starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, and Britt Robertson
Casey Newton is an optimistic girl with a passion for science. She is determined to change the world. One day, she receives a strange lapel pin that allows her to access Tomorrowland, a futuristic and wonderful space-time dimension. Determined to find this faraway place, she crosses paths with Frank Walker, a brilliant inventor who is disillusioned and knows well Tomorrowland. With his help, and with the help of the mysterious Athena, Newton will have to work hard to save the world from catastrophe…
Part of the disappointment of this futuristic adventure tagged ‘Disney’ (and the reason that someone has aptly defined the film as “a teen version of Interstellar“) probably comes from the expectations generated by Brad Bird’s involvement in the film as director and writer. Bird was the creator of Pixar masterpieces, such as The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, (which, among other good things, contain hymns to the importance of individual excellence and to the ability of surpassing expectations in the name of passion) but also the successful Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which was Bird’s first exploration in the live action film genre.
Tomorrowland certainly offers moments of genuine surprise. For example, the viewer is surprised when Frank is a child and Casey takes her first trip to the futuristic city, or when the cranky inventor’s home reveals all its engineering surprises with a pace worthy of a cartoon, and especially when, in a moment of shameless cyberpunk creativity, the Eiffel Tower reveals its nature as a launching pad for another world.
In short, the film’s enormous budget really shows. Yet one would expect to spend more time in the world that the movie’s title inspires. Instead, we are given small tastes and intermittent visits to a Tomorrowland that more closely resembles a poorly streamed video than the central part of the film. The film thus becomes a conspiracy thriller, with robots in black, Jim Carrey’s smile, and a certain unrealistic ease in destroying villains as the least convincing aspects of all.
However, the more general problem is that the film is pedantic to the point of banality. This banality culminates at the end of the movie with a not only generic, but also didactic appeal to save the planet. The viewer is met with a mix of a Steve Jobs’ style motivational speech (stay hungry, stay foolish), a multiethnic commercial à la Benetton, and the promotional video of a cult.
As for the two protagonists, optimistic Casey is a strangely lonely teenager, and although her genius is capable of saving the world, she uses her powers more suggestively than actually. George Clooney, on the other hand, (who was chosen for his star power as someone who is famous, progressive, generous and dedicated to good causes) leaves us a bit perplexed when, after 40 years, he returns to his young romance and declares his love to an android that appears to be an eleven year old girl. Hugh Laurie is the most wasted talent of all with his unclear role as villain who appears to be more like a Wile E. Coyote comic book character than a serious adversary.
The film gives the impression that it is trying to do everything it can to intercept the desire for change and for the anarchistic revolt of the post-Occupy generation. Yet it does so like an old teacher who would scold his young for their tendency to wallow in pessimism. However, in this case, the lesson replaces a genuine sense of wonder, and the risk is that its viewers feel indoctrinated rather than inspired. The film’s call to “feed the wolf of hope rather than pessimism” resembles more a recommendation from a self-help manual than a truly inspiring moment that Pixar’s poetic Brad Bird was able to create elsewhere.
This film is suitable for all audiences.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to several magazines and websites about cinema and television.