This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 31st May 2015
Contrary to suspicions, Tomorrowland isn’t just a sneaky promotional tool for one region of the world’s most famous theme-park. Rather, the Disney movie has conscripted a well-regarded director (Brad Bird, whose talents are evident from the animated charm of The Incredibles to the very live, very action Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol), cast a bunch of self-possessed youngsters and devised a story which, save for coherency issues, actually tries to send a positive message.
We first meet our hero, Frank Walker, as the grumpy, cynical old man he has become, played by George Clooney. Walker is pessimistic about the state of the world today, and saddened that the future into which he grew wound up bearing no resemblance to the one he envisioned when he was a bright young inventor visiting the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. The story back-and-forths between past and present, with Walker pairing up with a teenage girl who is similarly scientific in her outlook, and not yet as gloomy. Together, they must save the world. Or the future. Or something.
While the film’s themes of inspiration and perseverance are clear as day (Einstein’s “Imagination is more important than knowledge” is quoted on a wall, just so you’re sure), the plot bounces around with enough diverting set-pieces and lots of clever ideas to keep it enjoyable, even if you don’t quite know what’s going on. Something is at stake, but when an insufficiently villainous Hugh Laurie asks Clooney “What the hell are you doing here?” you may well echo the same thought. (The Big Revelation is actually an important one as far as children’s movies go, so it really shouldn’t have been such a mystery.)
However, Brad Bird knows how to make a great looking film, built with high production values and a strong cast – in particular, there are terrific juvenile performances from The Longest Ride’s Britt Robertson (a Julia Roberts in the making) and the dazzling 12-year old Raffey Cassidy as Athena – excellent role-modelling from these strong female characters. Tomorrowland the place is beautifully created, and the various escape scenes perfectly executed.
It’s a bit long, particularly when you don’t know its purpose, but Tomorrowland harks back to adventure tales of yore and its target audience is bound to have a blast.