Disney tries dystopia in the kinetic, bewildering Tomorrowland
Much like the Disney theme-park attraction that supplies its name and inspiration, Tomorrowland is best described as a big pile of something.
Here’s what I believe I know about the movie: George Clooney, in grizzled Walter Matthau mode, plays a bitter inventor who has been stuck on Earth ever since being banished for some reason from the titular place, a breathtaking world where creativity flows like wine, technology is highly advanced, and the possibilities are endless. In Tomorrowland, life is one big TED conference.
But even though Clooney has top billing, he’s not really the star. Pole position goes to Britt Robertson, playing a smart, scrappy Florida teen who needs Clooney’s character to serve as her guide, once she gets a pin that magically transports her to the land. Apparently, she has been chosen as the one who can restore Tomorrowland to its spectacular original luster — and the only person who can save Earth from becoming an apocalyptic nightmare.
Just how does our heroine set out doing that? I really have no clue. Director Brad Bird, working from a story he scripted with ubiquitous blockbuster screenwriter Damon Lindelof and Entertainment Weekly TV critic Jeff Jensen, throws a lot of damn things on this huge wall, praying that something sticks. Most of the time, the movie seems like a cuter, more upbeat version of The Matrix, with our protagonists dodging dark-suited enforcers when they’re not trying to wake people the hell up and alert them to their doomed surroundings.
That makes Tomorrowland an oddly sunny dystopian vision, one that often comes off as a huge finger wagging at our slothful, morose civilization. With their popcorn-season tent pole, Bird and Lindelof seem intent on signaling their presumably youthful audience that it’s not too late to cut down on the video games and work on bettering this planet. It would be a swell message, if only the movie had a legible story wrapped around it.
From the jump, though, Tomorrowland is devoted more to looking good than to being good. The actual Tomorrowland sequences are gloriously kinetic, especially the opening flashback to Clooney’s youth — a visual joyride that starts with a faulty jet pack at a World’s Fair and opens a portal onto the world of wonder beyond. Animator turned live-action filmmaker, Bird is as confident during such sequences as he was making the often amazing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.
What’s missing this time is a narrative engine to sustain your interest or emotional involvement between the big set pieces. As much as I tried to submit to Tomorrowland, I just couldn’t stop thinking of plausible questions that the movie just doesn’t know how to answer. Which might not matter, if the characters weren’t written as grating, tiresome creatures. Clooney and Robertson spend too much of their time together bickering, and I haven’t even gotten to the ass-whupping little British girl (Raffey Cassidy) who brings them together, and with whom Clooney’s character has a history that’s more creepy than adorable.
Tomorrowland‘s cluttered, wandering premise never coalesces into something fully realized. For a movie that preaches the importance of always keeping your imagination going and your ideas flowing, it mostly just reminds you that thinking too much can distract you from successfully making your damn point.