May 25, 2015 by bck1402
Traditional science fiction often held up mirrors to our world and reflected a future that was taken to an extreme by extrapolating a particular behaviour or law. Utopian societies would have some dark underbelly and dystopian societies took advantage of certain liberties we gave up on. The heroes and heroines who lived and survived in these world, whether they were fighting back against the authority or not, often did so with a glimmer of hope for something better. Very little has changed where science fiction is concerned. Take, for example, the current cinematic adaptation The Hunger Games trilogy, that features a futuristic society that seems engrossed in an annual televised death-match reality game show and the subsequent rebellion that follows in the latter two books. It wouldn’t be much of a spoiler to say our heroine would pull through to the end, but would the world be changed much by her actions? Would the government she’s fighting against be replaced by something better?
It’s rare – and I can’t think of any example – where the hope for a better world equates with sheer optimism for that utopia as it does in Tomorrowland.
Starting the movie’s story in the more “innocent” age of 1964, Tomorrowland reminds us of the optimism for the future prevalent at the time. The possibilities for the future, the kind of things we looked forward to, like flying cars, robot housekeepers, vacations to the stars and other planets and so much more. By the time we passed the first decade of the 21st Century, we were asking, “Where are the flying cars?” And the movie takes us there, from the 1964 World’s Fair to Tomorrowland and all its technological wonders. Then, like the blip in time that the World’s Fair represented and the possibility of that future world we see on screen, we’re brought to the present day. A world where optimism seems to be crushed daily by all the terrible tragedies of the real world. A world with problems so big, that all we can do is just talk about it… and nothing else. Crazy weather, global warming, famine, et al. What can one person do?
Sometimes, the simple answer to these big questions is this, “Because we decided to…”
Or if you want Kennedy’s version, “Because we chose to…”
As a child in the movie, Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) decides that inventing things can be just for the fun of it. There is an unbridled optimism in his actions, that even his cynical father can’t dampen. As an adult, Frank (George Clooney) seems a little more beaten down and cynical about what the future holds, and gets his perception challenged by Casey Newton (Brit Robertson), not quite an inventor like he was, but who has an innate understanding in how things work and is able to imaginatively adapt to situations. She also has that same unbridled optimism he used to have, and is willing to fight for a future she believes in.
This is what the movie does, too. Amidst the amazing effects, chases, fights, action beats and science fiction trappings, it shares its optimistic view-point. It acknowledges the problems we have in this world, and points to a possible answer – even if it may not be an answer that is practical for our current world. It also doesn’t mean it’s not possible, as we have people in this world doing just that in the face of extreme adversity (particularly big business).
Now, despite being named for a theme park ride, the movie is very much a Walt Disney film in a very traditional sense. The kind where kids are very capable of adventure and imagination, getting caught up in all kinds of shenanigans and learning what truly matters in their lives. Whether it was in the cinema or on TV, the Walt Disney movies were often quite optimistic in their own ways; be it escaping to Witch Mountain, having a Freaky Friday, journeying with Natty Gann, being The Strongest Man in the World, pulling off a Parent Trap, riding around in Herbie, treasure hunting in Candleshoe and more. Tomorrowland very comfortably fits into that subset of movies while being an awesome science fiction adventure flick as well. Science Fiction fans (movies, comics and beyond) will thoroughly enjoy the action beat in the novelty shop, Blast From The Past.
The stars are well cast with Clooney obviously enjoying every minute of his screen time, even when he has to be that grumpy and cynical Frank. His double act with Brit Robertson is amazing and she holds her own against her charming co-star. Then there’s Raffey Cassidy who more than steals her scenes, and that’s saying something when sharing the screen with the mesmerising Clooney. Hugh Laurie manages to elevate his character as well above the typical… well, I don’t really want to spoil anything there.
The overall design of Tomorrowland is intoxicating – I want to swim in those pools! – mixing both futuristic and retro; a future world as envisioned over fifty years ago and yet completely plausible. Some of the design in the real world is equally eye-catching – particularly with the Eiffel Tower – presenting a cohesive aesthetic throughout. Coupled with Michael Giacchino’s rousing score and it’s an adventure to behold.
Director Brad Bird, who did wonders in animation, brings the same heart he infused into the likes of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, as well as the sense of wonder where anything is possible. For me, this is as perfect a movie I’ve seen in a long time, one that entertains and inspires, holding a message at heart without condescending too much and allowing the audience to dream along with it. Some people might find it a bit heavy handed in that respect, but that attitude is reflected by the people Casey encounters very early on. The cynical ones who think we should accept the world as it is because the problems are too big to fix.
In that, I believe, is the reason this movie will stand the test of time and continue to inspire others for generations to come.
Stars George Clooney, Brit Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie, Thomas Robinson with Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn
Directed by Brad Bird
Rating ****1/2 / 5