The cynic looks at a movie like “Tomorrowland” and instantly assumes it’s commercial propaganda.
It’s a Disney picture, inspired by the eponymous section of Disneyland, and thus must exist to sell tickets and toys above all else, right?
Sure, kinda, but it’s also an old-fashioned family adventure from director/co-writer Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) and co-writer Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), imbued with an optimistic futurist perspective that stands out amid the cynicism that pervades so much of the culture these days.
If only the script were better; if only it didn’t feel like Bird and Lindelof struggled to find a way to capture their concept of a fantasy utopia built by the best and brightest minds in a fashion that produced something different from the same-old stuff.
Instead, “Tomorrowland” is quite muddled; a mass of impressive set pieces — particularly protagonist Casey’s (Britt Robertson) first visit to the gleaming, magical world of the film’s title and a shootout with robots in a sci-fi store — that serve as budget-busting distractions from the heart of a story about do-gooders trying to repair a broken world.
Casey teams up with Frank Walker (George Clooney), a grizzled coot who once spent time in Tomorrowland, for help with the complicated process of journeying there, and a large percentage of the movie is devoted toward their efforts.
This is a fundamental mistake: We want to see more of Tomorrowland’s utopian expanse, to understand its depths and contours. We don’t want to spend a bunch of time driving through cornfields in upstate New York or watching Casey and Frank bicker.
The movie valorizes the right things — the heroine is a strong and independent thinker who is fascinated by science. It is committed to the idea that education and environmentalism can be cool and fun, and that’s important. “Tomorrowland” is essentially a feature film version of EPCOT, really, and hell, if a movie is gonna mine hard-core commercial territory, there might as well be some overlap with actual learning.
But the soul is missing. For whatever reason, be it the difficult premise, the limitations that come with even an enormous budget ($190 million, reportedly) or the fact that even this big summer movie is obliged to hit the familiar, market-approved beats, “Tomorrowland” only sporadically joins its characters in flight.