Walt Disney would have been very proud of this movie. It is irrelevant whether you consider it a great film, as it is a great movie experience.
When I saw the initial previews for Tomorrowland, I was quickly reminded of my many visits to Disney World in Orlando. I’ve had the good fortune to take my son, grandchildren and an exchange student to visit that enchanted kingdom, and every trip was memorable.
As most of you know, one of the kingdoms carries the name of Director Brad Bird’s film. It was never one of my favorite stops until Space Mountain appeared, and that spectacular ride reinforces my feeling that a child’s greatest adventure is when you place them in a setting where they falsely believe their life is in danger.
Tomorrowland is an intellectual tour de force that requires members of the audience to do the last thing associated with a theater experience, namely to THINK. To dismiss this film as just another summer action movie ignores the fundamental fact that it embodies the greatest tradition of the Walt Disney Studios.
The movie begins at the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65 where Frank Walker, a young boy genius, attempts to gain recognition for his creation of a backpack that propels a wearer into the sky. Rejected following his admission that he had not perfected his invention, he is given a small pin by an admiring girl named Athena that quickly propels him into an unbelievable futuristic world.
Forty years later we meet a teenage girl named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) courageously asks questions concerning the problems faced throughout the world. When she gets no answers, her constant response is, “Why?”
Casey’s father (Tim McGraw), a space engineer, has been laid off as a result of the United States all but abandoning its space program. Following her attempts to sabotage efforts to destroy parts of Cape Canaveral, Casey ends up arrested where she ends up with an identical medallion given decades earlier to a young Mr. Walker. That medallion also propels her quickly into what becomes known as Tomorrowland, and she is consumed with a desire to find a world where society seemingly has cured all of its ills.
Soon, her quest for answers puts her life in danger, and she is rescued by Athena, who looks exactly the same age as the young girl who helped Mr. Walker at the Worlds Fair. Casey finds herself dumped by Athena on the doorstep of the middle-aged Mr. Walker, a man who lost his joy of life years earlier.
Played with savage tenacity by George Clooney, Walker is now an angry man walled off from the world in a home with numerous creative inventions. When the murderous pursuers of Casey descend on our duo, they are forced to flee in a bathtub that can fly as they begin a friendship to define not only their future, but Earth’s.
I have already said all you need to know, as the rest of the film centers on the Ruler of Tomorrowland (Hugh Laurie) as he confronts mankind the same way Yahweh did with Noah. In effect, mankind’s behavior has become so mind-numbingly reprehensible that Earth is better off demolished with humanity destroyed. Why attempt to save humanity when they would likely do the same thing to Tomorrowland if you let them in? Interested in the outcome?
Mr. Bird has previously brought us historic films like The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007). Here, he confronts the ugliness facing mankind across our troubled world. Despite the fact that we are poisoning our air, doing little to confront climate change, stand idly by as temperature’s rise and the glaciers gradually disappear, watch wars proliferate across the globe as children starve with obesity raging elsewhere, we stand by and do nothing.
The failure of politicians to act is tackled head-on, and Mr. Bird asks us to confront a growing tendency in our own country where the only thing important is to make a buck. In effect, who cares that taxpayers are spending over $8 million a day to provide military support in the Middle East while simultaneously refusing to spend this money on infrastructure, education, etc. in various countries including our own.
The special effects, metaphorically speaking, are out-of-this-world. And even though the film at times gets a bit unwieldy and cumbersome, it never loses its essential point that we humans have to rediscover a commitment to joy and comradery during our short existence.
While Mr. Clooney is, as expected, the center of attention in every scene, this movie belongs to two young actresses. Ms. Robertson’s role as Casey embraces a young woman dedicated to simply make this world a better place for mankind. Yet it is young Ms. Cassidy’s performance as Athena, a young girl with spectacularly large, round eyes, that quickly becomes a character for the ages. She has all the attributes of Tinker Bell and Jiminy Cricket.
Without saying more, robots play a crucial role in this film, and I will leave it for you to determine whether Athena is human. However, there is a mesmerizing moment when an aging Frank Walker and a seemingly childlike Athena must confront not only their commitment to a better future on Earth but their suppressed youthful attraction to each other. I’m sure many of you will join Mr. Clooney as he holds Athena in his arms with tears running down his cheeks.