The future is a little confusing and convoluted, but kind of cool anyway, in Tomorrowland, the latest Disney attraction to get its own movie, this time courtesy of director-writer Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles).
Boy genius Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) and his jetpack attend the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, during a wonderful sequence that recreates the legendary event. After sparring with the curator of an invention contest (Hugh Laurie), the despondent boy winds up on a bench sulking, only to be given a special pin by a mysterious young girl named Athena (the absolutely incredible Raffey Cassidy).
During a ride through “It’s a Small World,” which Walt Disney actually did premiere at the fair, Frank finds himself transported to a strange, seemingly future world where Athena resides and robots repair his jetpack. In short, it’s a world where the inventive likes of Frank can thrive.
Cut to the present day, where super intelligent teenaged girl Casey (25-year-old Britt Robertson wearing a baseball cap to appear younger) is trying to sabotage the destruction of a Cape Canaveral launch site. She wants to be an astronaut someday, and her dad (Tim McGraw) is a NASA engineer, so no space program means big bummers for Casey. She, too, is given a pin by Athena, who we guess must have the ability to time travel. Casey touches the pin, and is instantly transported to Tomorrowland.
After a brief stay, she’s transported back home, much to her chagrin. She eventually winds up in the company of a grown-up Frank Walker (George Clooney … hooray!), who has become a hermit living in a New York house littered with gadgets. Clooney is perfect for the role of a former dreamer who has grown up to be a little bitter, yet still has time and gumption to make a bathtub that transforms into a rocket.
Everything eventually leads to another Tomorrowland visit, where we discover things about the fate of the place and Earth itself. Along the way to the halfway decent finale, Bird provides some great battles involving ticked-off robots, dazzling special effects rife with fun Disney Easter eggs (Space Mountain in the Tomorrowland skyline!) and some great performances.
For me, the true star of this movie is Cassidy, a relative newcomer who simply owns every second of her screen time. I’ll call her performance as a futuristic scout with big secrets and an ability to kick major ass one of the year’s best performances so far.
Robertson proves a mighty fun protagonist and nets the most screen time. Her character is some sort of child prodigy, although why is never fully revealed. She just sort of knows how to solve things. While she isn’t fully fleshed out, Robertson is a winning enough presence that it’s easy to forgive the shortcomings in the script. Again, she’s playing way below her age, but she pulls it off.
Clooney gets to mix in a bit of his cantankerous persona along with his gentle side. He has the classic Hollywood looks that are right at home in a Disney film that longs for nostalgia. It’s some of his more fun work in years.
The script was co-written by Lost and Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof, so, naturally, all of the dots don’t seem to be connected. Lindelof can be a little ambiguous, even confusing at times, but he’s always interesting. If you like your movies tied up in a nice little bow, the works of Lindelof are not for you. As for me, I have a fun time trying to figure his stuff out, even if I don’t come up with all of the answers.
The film’s production was shrouded in secrecy, which may have actually hurt it to some extent because some might attend Tomorrowland looking for more than what they actually get. The big reveals don’t necessarily live up to all of the hype. Even so, it’s a fun film, with some great ideas that provide cool mythology for one of Disney’s most popular theme park attractions.