Imagine a world where the brightest, most brilliant minds of our time could invent and create freely, separate from petty bureaucracy, rules and laws and the ambitions of petty businessmen and politicians? That place is Tomorrowland.
It's a nice, if naive, concept that forms the backbone of Brad Bird's latest film. With a plot allegedly inspired by a banker's box full of retro Disney memorabilia labelled "1952" and a mystery shrouded production, all that's been shown so far are clips of a mysterious "Tomorrowland" pin that shows visions of a retro sci-fi future to the girl who finds it, Casey (Britt Robertson), and an extended scene of Casey meeting up with paranoid inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) and the two of them being pursued by weird humanoid robots.
So what's it all about? Needless to say the central mystery won't be spoiled here, but the film starts by introducing Clooney's Walker as a young inventor who has a run in with a girl from "The Future" and "Tomorrowland" itself but then shifts gears to the present day, introducing Casey's attempts to resist the sense of powerlessness heaped upon her by her teachers, who teach climate change and oil scarcity, but don't seem interested in empowering their students to start thinking about how to address these issues and her sabotage of the planned demolition of the NASA launch pad near her house, where her father used to work. After getting caught and spending time in jail, that distinctive "T" pin falls into her lap, providing her with fantastic visions of a world where people travel via jetpacks, flying cars fill the air, robots build beautiful buildings in the blink of an eye, and off-world travel is real and in a manageable timescale. There is no question that they are visions, as Casey remains firmly rooted in the here and now during their appearance, often to comedic effect, banging her head on objects in the real world that are invisible to her in "Tomorrowland". Before long she heads off to find out more about the pin and the place it purports to be from, running in to a cute yet familiar little girl, some evil robots and eventually Frank, before trying to break back into the world of Tomorrowland itself.
With all the hype and mystery around the film, marketing it was always going to be difficult and something that seems to have gotten lost in the mix is that this is mostly a kids action movie along the lines of ‘80s movies like Explorers or The Goonies. The big reveal when it comes is a little bit of a let-down and is followed by a slightly disappointing climax.
Casey, however, is a great mix of confidence, street smarts and scientific know how that will hopefully inspire a generation of young girls (and boys) that STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) are cool, interesting and worth their time, but unfortunately there's not an awful lot for adults apart from watching Clooney playing his hand at a more comedic role and squaring up verbally to stuffed shirt Hugh Laurie near the film’s climax.
Once Laurie does turn up the film takes a surprising, dark, pessimistic turn, with a pretty scary ecological message lamenting the loss of that gleaming, sci-fi future from the ‘50s and ‘60s for the pessimistic attitude that pervades culture these days. The eventual reveal of what Tomorrowland is now, as opposed to what is was, is also somewhat of a letdown. Thankfully a glimmer of optimism does return but it's a surprisingly bold move for a film that's mostly been a roller coaster so far.
Kids and teens should have a riot with the goofy robots, a neat small role by Key and Peele's Keegan-Michael Key and the fun action but adults expecting more will probably be slightly disappointed. Bring a young relative and revel in their wonder.
INFO: TOMORROWLAND / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: BRAD BIRD / SCREENPLAY: DAMON LINDELOF, BRAD BIRD, JEFF JENSEN / STARRING: BRITT ROBERTSON, GEORGE CLOONEY, KATHRYN HAHN, HUGH LAURIE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 22ND
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10