Walt Disney was a dreamer and a visionary, there’s no doubt about that. Beyond his theme park he created the EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) centre. He wanted a futuristic community to flourish where inventors could invent and dreamers could dream, free from life’s issues – and EPCOT was the start of that journey.
These days EPCOT is thought of as the permanent World’s Fair, but nothing more, if we’re being brutally honest. Disney’s vision never really came to pass.
Fast-forward to 2015 and modern-day dreamers Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) took on the challenge of bringing it to life, on the big screen at least. The results are mixed, but at least they dared to dream.
Plot wise our story starts with Frank (George Clooney) and Casey (Britt Robertson) recounting their tale – to camera – of how it all happened. We flashback to Frank’s childhood where he meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and discovers Tomorrowland in all its inventive pomp and wonder. We then jump forward to modern times and how Casey meets Athena and later on Frank, and how she learns that the wondrous version of Tomorrowland she’s seen may not be the reality. Plus there’s some shady characters after them, of course.
These days, getting a completely new blockbuster off the ground is a hard task. You need to set up the world, introduce the characters, then give them something to fight for (which the audiences believes in too). In the case of Tomorrowland all this takes a while. We follow events from Casey’s point of view and, as teenage heroines are all the rage lately, we’re expecting her to kick ass and take names, sort of. But that doesn’t really happen, she’s no Katniss Everdeen and it’s not that kind of film.
Whilst there’s peril it’s more your Saturday-afternoon-for-all-the-family kind of peril. I recently saw director Brad Bird’s debut film, an animation called The Iron Giant. It’s wonderfully sweet with some great character moments. Critics panned it at the time but it’s since become thought of as a modern animation classic.
Will Tomorrowland go the same way?
It’s hard to tell right now. It’s by no means a bad film, but maybe the concept has a few too many holes and the plot needed a tweak or two to really sing.
Fundamentally, the problem lies in the fact that it takes far too long to actually get to Tomorrowland. Like Casey, we’re itching to get there but frustrated until the film’s final third. By all means take your time if you’re adapting literary material (allowing a few films to get to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings is completely acceptable) but holding back the land we’ve come to see until almost the end is rather mean-spirited.
Perhaps Lindelof as the writer is to blame. With Lost he kept so much hidden until almost the show’s final season that, as a viewer, you went a little mad. C’mon, show us the good stuff!
This wouldn’t matter if the early vision Casey – and the audience – see of Tomorrowland wasn’t so enticing. But it is. Bird and Lindelof have let their imagination run wild and as Casey frolics with gay abandon through the land there’s so much on screen to take in. It’s a visual treat and put me in mind of Guillermo del Toro’s troll market in Hellboy II (if that had a 1960s aesthetic and was bathed in sunshine. Maybe Hellboy meets The Jetsons).
Back on earth – and halfway through the film – there’s a tense but thrillingly exciting sequence at Frank’s house where Casey and Frank flee the bad guys. His inventions are, well, highly inventive and cinematically pleasing (although they veer a little towards Men In Black at times). More of that would have been welcomed, as long as it served the characters. But all that stuff is just fancy trimmings, the meat on the bones is the plot and it needed more love.
So it’s fun, inventive, a nice love letter to Disney and dreamers but, plot wise, you may end up feeling like you’re stuck in a queue on one of Disney’s rides you weren’t entirely sure you wanted to take.