Disney has continuously increased the magnitude of action sequences in its science-fiction films, specifically their Sci-fi family films. Sometimes they compare well to the action beats of an adult action film, which may veer some critics and parents’ opinions toward the negative and cautious. Tomorrowland has gotten some of those opinions for its action sequences that are hard-hitting and mostly seen in close-quarters settings, however, it never did get too violent for younger viewers because it stylishly-toned down its brutality and is not as frequent as one of the trailers suggests (#3). After all, not everyone in Tomorrowland is human, and there’s frequent comic relief for all ages interspersed throughout the narrative. The two mid-30s gentlemen that sat next to me prove that.
That said, it’s best to shun any critics’ worries about the action sequences, which are exciting, justified and never overtake the narrative’s role in telling its timely, universal message. The most mature Disney “family” film this year, Tomorrowland is basically another, yet funner, sci-fi actioner focused on social philosophical and environmental issues wearing the guise of a PG Disney movie. This actually helps parents who will unknowingly impart some harsh yet necessary wisdom on some major human disappointments such as ignorance and ego – but also courage and triumph – in terms of where civilization is going and what can be – and what could be – done to keep it alive for future generations.
But if you’re a casual moviegoer that wants to be excited and see something lush, funny and exciting enough to justify the ticket price yet not be numbed or dumbed down by set-pieces like in Furious 7, Tomorrowland offers a healthy amount of treats while never becoming too didactic or philosophical to turn its premise into a weekday lecture. There’s an interesting twist on the whole end-of-the-world message that humanity fed itself since the birth of Science-fiction film in the 20th century, even if the narrative is too familiar and cheesy at times and sometimes creates uneven pacing that’s felt throughout the film.
George Clooney plays Frank, who was once a boy-genius that entered his almost-working jetpack into the world fair in 1964 in hopes of being recognized by Nix, Hugh Laurie in a stoic but sweet antagonist role that House fans will recognize as another brutally-honest character doing what’s thought to be righteous for everyone. The wound of Nix’s rejection of the jetpack is soothed by Athena (a wonderful Rathey Cassidy), a young yet brilliant girl his age that helps him sneak through the gates into uncharted territory where all creative minds, innovators, visionaries and dreamers come together to make the world a better place: Tomorrowland.
There’s a familiar nod to Disneyworld here. The Universal Studios statue is even seen and Frank must traverse the crowded theme park to get to Nix and Athena in Tomorrowland, cuing a major set piece. From the get-go, Clooney’s older Frank is telling the story, seemingly via a recording device, as if the whole movie was a flashback, yet it definitely caused the critics to point its narrative unevenness. Though it helped the final sequence feel welcome instead of tacky and too familiar, many will feel the narrative feel like one short chapter followed by one epic second chapter, and then a conclusion. Had they cut a few voice overs in the first 20 minutes, it could have been spared.
But young Frank’s descent into Tomorrowland is too enjoyable to write off the film’s iffy storytelling maneuvers. Making the most of CGI landscaping without creating an all-digital, overloaded world like many sci-fi pictures these days, director Brad Bird managed to make the human moviegoer immersed into Tomorrowland as if it were really a possible future for mankind rather than another artificial makeover of the countless worlds we’ve created in post-production. It’s full of advanced technologies and sunshine, yeah, but seems somewhat practical. Besides the lush landscaping and special effects, the film goes to lengths with key dialogue exchanges and Nix’s great third act speech to prove that Tomorrowland was the example the human race must look up to in order to save itself. Was, because mankind’s future is threatened by its own handling of its impending, self-caused doom, one where nuclear war, global warming, environmental pollution, overpopulation and the tons of strife the world’s socioeconomic inequalities brought to the table.
Frank measures the probability of the present world ending with tech that measures it through the mindsets of the human population itself, and even has a countdown until the very day it all ends. Of course, this being a Disney family film too, the tone of this is watered down by Casey Nooton, a bright, persistent optimist who wants older Frank to be more upbeat with the message. Then we shift to her story and the rest of the film is carried by Britt Robertson, who one can argue gives the best performance of the movie. With a pessimistic NASA father and teachers reading them all the dystopian classics of the 20th century, Casey demands answers on how we can fix the world’s current problems. Casey Nooton. Get it?
Enter the pin. The pin is her gateway into Tomorrowland and the audience’s growing understanding of it. Is it another dimension, a parallel universe? Why is it called Tomorrowland? Is it our future or does it exist now? How else can you get there? The film creatively answers these questions through Casey’s strong-willed and funny adventure in pursuit of the mysterious world. More importantly, the answer as to why Casey is involved in the first place reinforces the notion that humanity’s future doesn’t just depend on the routine support of our manufacturing, infrastructure and economies so long as politics keep on a wise direction.
Storytelling issues aside, Tomorrowland is best seen knowing little about the actual plot. Overall, the action is paced better than its storytelling in the first Act and the film could have been funnier at places to be even more rousing. But if you ever wanted to see Peele from Key and Peele in dreadlocks trying to kill a teenage girl rather than piercing our ears with over the top skits on his show, Tomorrowland helps there.
Clooney and Laurie’s brief yet strong male presences in the second and third acts are complimented by Casey and Athena’s domination of the bulk of the movie with their intelligent, deep roles as the saviors of humanity (score two for women in film). It was a smart move by screenwriters Brad Bird and Lost creator Damon Lindelof to give each of the four characters equal roles in what’s supposed to be everyone’s role in preserving and progressing human civilization, making Tomorrowland feel more than just the family-friendly sci-fi adventure it easily comes off as.