When Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an idealistic high school student is arrested trying to sabotage the dismantling of the space shuttle launch platform, she finds a mysterious pin in her belongings when she’s released on bail. Touching the pin allows her to see a mysterious futuristic utopia and she sets out to discover the truth behind her visions. When the trail brings her to a former boy-genius inventor, Frank (George Clooney), they embark on a fantastic mission to save not one world, but two.
George Clooney’s name may be above the title on the poster but the film really belongs to Britt Robertson, whose plucky heroine keeps the story moving along. She’s ably supported by a quirky performance from Raffey Cassidy as the mysterious Athena while Clooney and Hugh Laurie provide a little bit of gravitas and a lot of exposition.
Although it touches on one of Brad Bird’s favourite motifs: the importance and responsibility of being ‘gifted’, there are a lot more themes at play in this rousingly magical adventure story, transcending its inspirational theme park ride roots to become something more substantive, a rallying call for determination, imagination and resilience. Early in the film, Casey repeats a story her father tells her about two wolves fighting. One is evil: it is anger, jealousy, greed and hate. The other is good; love, hope, kindness and optimism. Which one wins? The one you feed. This philosophical motif runs through the entire film, deliberately drawing a line between the optimists and pessimists; the dreamers and the naysayers and extrapolates both viewpoints to their ultimate conclusions.
For anyone of a certain age, myself included, there’s a melancholy heartache in the beauty and wonder of Tomorrowland itself, because it represents everything we thought the world would be by this point in the 21st Century. Enlightened, peaceful, prosperous and full of marvels instead of the ideologically divided, environmentally poisoned, war torn and unfair world we have. The film doesn’t shy away from reflecting this bleakness back at us nor does it pull any punches when pointing out who is to blame. There’s a powerfully anti-cynical message embedded in the film and if it doesn’t at least make you think about the bigger issues facing our species then perhaps there really is no hope for you after all.
The script (by Bird and Damon Lindelof) does a good job of balancing the big concepts and the little moments, blending the action and ideas together with the boundless imagination we’ve come to expect from both writers. The film suffers a little from being about twenty minutes too long though and initially has trouble getting going thanks to a clunky and unnecessary framing device.
Despite its length and its myriad of flashbacks and parallel dimensions, it’s likely to delight the kids with its hopeful future of jet packs and anti-gravity swimming pools while giving mums and dads plenty to think about in amongst the action and adventure. Mertmas loved it and is already pestering me to get him a ‘magic button’ so he can visit Tomorrowland himself. I would assume it’s intentionally ironic that a film which goes out of its way to critique the modern world’s tendency to repackage, commoditize and sell everything also blatantly promotes a theme park – or would that be me being too cynical?
Nevertheless, in a summer packed with sequels, reboots or gritty post-apocalyptic pyrotechnics, “Tomorrowland: A World Beyond” (a subtitle forced on Disney by a trademark problem in Europe) is a welcome return to inspirational, hopeful science fiction spectacle that challenges us to let go of our cynicism and believe that anything might just be possible again. Where was this Lindelof when he was helping reboot “Star Trek“?