When optimist and science lover Casey (Britt Robertson) sees a futuristic world after touching a pin she discovers among her stuff, she teams up with inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) to find Tomorrowland and save the world from imminent destruction.
Nothing is worse than a disaster film that smugly claims it has all the answers to the world’s problems. Tomorrowland is just that. It’s like the Disney Imagineers went to the Stark Expo for two hours, got high, and started playing the “what if” game until they all came to the conclusion that “Dude, the world is harshing its own mellow.”
On the surface, Tomorrowland is about bringing the world into a new golden age (and avoiding imminent disaster) by ditching negativity, greed, chaos, and corruption and favoring intelligence, creativity, optimism, and innovation. Not a bad concept for a movie directed at young audiences, particularly children. But when it’s paired with a production company that’s as greedy as it is creative (Making a movie based on a section of your profitable theme park again, Disney?), it’s a point that seems both smarmy and disingenuous.
The film is average, if not mediocre. Its special effects—which you’d think would be the main focus since the movie is set in a futuristic, fifth-dimensional world—get more of a background treatment since the movie pays more attention to its storytelling. Which, hilariously enough, the storytelling isn’t that great.
The screenplay was written by Lost‘s Damon Lindelof, who doesn’t have a great track record with writing, especially for sci-fi TV shows and films (at least there’s not some dumbass smoke monster in this movie). And while the acting is good, particularly from 13-year-old Raffey Cassidy, who plays an ageless android (and has a weird onscreen romance with George Clooney’s Frank), the characters aren’t even well-crafted.
Take Britt Robertson’s Casey, for example. (I had to nab this line from Pajiba because it’s dead-on.) “The protagonist, while we’re told is brilliant over and over again, never actually does anything other than go on an elaborate road trip. She had no background, no context of intelligence or hard work, no demonstration of wanting something more. Instead we’re told over and over again by other characters that she’s special.” There you have it. That’s the extent of character development in this movie. I shit you not when I tell you that the only reason Casey is special and the hero is because she’s a positive thinker. Literally, that’s the movie’s “Chosen One” solution.
What’s really funny to me about this movie is its true villain is apathy and pessimism (not Hugh Laurie’s Nix), suggesting that it’s the lack of trying and loss of hope that puts the world in danger. We see this when Casey tries to ask her teachers (who drone on about disaster and chaos) what the world is doing to fix its problems, as well as with TVs in the background of every scene showing natural disasters and other terrible news. Yet Casey’s question—which is essentially the movie’s thesis statement—doesn’t even get answered by the movie.
While we could argue that it’s because Lindelof and director Brad Bird hope to inspire us (the audience) into answering the question (by changing the world), it seems kind of pointless to introduce a protagonist billed as the “Chosen One” who fixes everything and then not have her actually fix the world’s problems (because the movie’s “problems” stupidly turn out to be negativity, not pollution, corruption, and all of the other real stuff that’s ruining the world).
Worse, Nix, the antagonist and symbol of pessimism, is a voice of reason. In fact, he’s so realistic and logical with his arguments that the heroes never dispute them (because even they can see he’s right). For example: Nix says something along the lines of “You have simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation. How is that even possible?” when arguing about how stupid and messed up the world is.
Again, it’s a question the movie brings up but doesn’t answer, and Casey defeating negativity doesn’t solve it either. Her positivity doesn’t feed the starving, help the obese, fix poverty, or address the sketchy-as-f*** food industry issues we have. Could it? Yeah, behind real solutions, but the movie never uses real solutions (which is hilarious because that’s what Casey says is the problem with the pessimists—they don’t actually do anything to change the world).
Not to mention, Tomorrowland‘s whole idea of “changing the world” by dreaming is exclusive to the smartest, most creative, “special” people (which the characters repeat throughout the movie and then the movie demonstrates in its Coca-Cola-like montage of multi-racial geniuses, artists, and do-gooders finding the pins). You’d think a story about how anything is possible wouldn’t eliminate the possibility that perhaps even people who aren’t MacArthur Fellows or the next Mozart could also contribute to bettering the world. It’s ironic, really, which just adds to the mess of flaws this movie has.
Overall, Tomorrowland is two hours of Disney patting themselves on the back for promoting optimism and innovation. Congrats, guys. You did it. You solved all of the world’s problems.
For my radio review of Tomorrowland on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 26:41 mark).