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All Aboard the World of Tomorrow!: Tomorrowland Review

                Disney’s Tomorrowland may be the most hyped movie of the year that no one really knew what to expect. It’s not a sequel, remake, or reimagining, rather it’s an original sci-fi concept, a rarity in the modern summer blockbuster season.
                The plot for what little can be revealed without spoiling, concerns a teenage girl Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) a curious and imaginative almost-prodigy who discovers a strange pin that transports her to a utopian futuristic society every time she touches it. Finding out it’s a real place called Tomorrowland she sets out to find it with a younger girl from there, Athena (Raffey Cassidy). They also team up with a former child inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) who has a connection to Athena and Tomorrowland from his own childhood in the 60’s and believes Casey may be able to save it.
There is quite a bit to admire about this movie, so first I’m going to get to its problems. For all its originality there are a lot of plot points that are fairly formulaic. The chosen one saving the world trope is an old one and there really isn’t much of a new spin on it here. I also think the film would have benefitted from showing Tomorrowland more even though I get why they didn’t do that. And the film does lose momentum in the final act with some rushed exposition, a shift in focus to the film’s message having been a subtle cautionary warning to being hammered to death, leading to a clichéd resolution that may cause more than a few groans. It’s not terrible, nor as painfully distracting as say Into the Woods’ final act, but compared to everything that came before, it feels a little cheap and preachy. The theme of dreaming and following dreams is extrapolated far too much and despite being a good message, it can’t be supported in this day and age without practical effort. They talk about perseverance to achieve dreams and create a better world, but we don’t see that effort in effect and in such a rich climate of creativity as this film is, that kind of dedication and revelation is needed. For a film that’s really about making the future, we don’t see a lot of the making. It’s on occasions like these that Disney tropes can hurt a film, and even wearing its heart on its sleeve can’t save the studio from feeling contrived.
But with that out of the way it still is a great movie. The characters though somewhat tropes are very interesting. Casey comes off as very down-to-earth despite her brilliance and her genuine curiosity and excitement shines through radiantly. As the audience surrogate Robertson does a great job taking us on the journey and through her we feel like we’re experiencing these wonders too. And it seems we forget that George Clooney is really a good actor and he definitely sells it as a cynical gruff old man here. And the chemistry between Clooney and Robertson is terrific. Hugh Laurie a comic idol of mine appears here in a mostly non-comic role but is also very good. Though the standout is certainly Cassidy. Her deliveries don’t always hit but she steals a lot of scenes through her dedication and action in the film. She’s the character that takes us back to that state of child-like enjoyment and awe.
That is, when the story isn’t already doing that. The term “original story” does go a long way and though some would dispute that this film is still based on something (the Tomorrowland attraction at DisneyLand), it’s still peppered with lots of new ideas. Writers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof poured their imagination into the concepts and styles of this film, but it still shows inspiration from other works of science fiction. Jules Verne whose novels and themes produced the original ride gets a shout-out here which I appreciate because the film feels very much Verne. There’s also one scene that pays very close homage to Terminator 2, and by the way, did you know Disney owns Star Wars? Cause there is a scene where they shove it in our faces. But it can also be expected with Brad Bird a huge Star Wars fan (and hopefully future director!). I mentioned earlier we don’t see a lot of Tomorrowland and while I wish we’d seen more, I understand why they went a different route focusing on the journey. The writing though at times very Disney has some very interesting ideas and themes. What does the future look like today? What’s more important, necessity or creativity? And until the final act ideas like these are subtle enough to keep you pondering.
But where Tomorrowland excels in its originality and imagination is in the visual style and effects. They’re beyond impressive and wonderfully creative. Brad Bird’s comfort place is in animation having been director of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and even on The Simpsons and it shows in his visual style which is very tantalizing in its expression and atmosphere. And it works incredibly well in live-action. And I need say no more about the unique imagination: bathtubs that turn into escape pods, mid-air pools you can dive between, and many other ideas feel like they come directly from a child’s imagination. There were times particularly early on when the production design combined with story reminded me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or The NeverEnding Story. And while the story beats are fairly familiar, the film still keeps you guessing as you keep wondering what you’ll see next that you’ve never seen before. The CGI on its own isn’t particularly impressive, but how it’s used in these eccentric and fun new ways makes it stand out. Bird is completely in his element and his mastery of storytelling (apart from some problems) and visual effects as a means to progress narrative and spark imagination rather than as a cheap tool shows he very well could be the next Spielberg. And I’m very excited to see what he does next!
Tomorrowland is a movie that moviegoers have almost no basis of reference, no previous knowledge of characters or setting, and no established conventions of creativity in look and style. And that’s exactly why it should be seen! It’s cinema in its best form, a work of art and entertainment that offers something new to the imagination and a unique visual splendour. It suffers in plot towards the end, but the journey to that end is well worth it! It reminds me why I love movies so much and in a summer filled with movies that while maybe good, aren’t likely to do that, it’s an amazing feat, and if nothing else, for movies, it gives me hope for the future!

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