The future is now...sort of. Disney's Tomorrowland wants to inject optimism in a world hurtling towards self-destruction. It is a fairly ambitious film that doesn't quite reach its lofty philosophical goals, but delivers an entertaining experience. Tomorrowland is darker than expected, and will probably put a few scares in younger viewers. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing as the youth of today are the targets for its message. Writer/director Brad Bird is usually on point. He has a keen eye for storytelling and visual effects. Tomorrowland isn't near the mastery of The Incredibles or The Iron Giant, but is a sight better than his Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.
Tomorrowland opens at the 1964 World's Fair, where a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) brings his homemade jetpack to the inventor's competition. He's summarily rebuffed by the arrogant judge, Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nice try kid, but come back when it actually works. Frank attracts the attention of a beguiling girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy). She gives him a special pin. Then tells him to follow her, but don't be seen. Frank soon takes an incredible journey to the fantastic, impossibly futuristic - Tomorrowland.
Fifty years later in Cape Canaveral, Florida; a brilliant teenage girl - Casey (Britt Robertson), tries to sabotage the cranes dismantling a rocket platform. Her father, a NASA engineer, will be laid off after the project is completed. Casey gets caught trespassing and is arrested. But not before Athena, who hasn't aged a day, slips another special pin into her belongings. Casey's world is transformed when she touches the pin. She soon becomes a key player, along with a much older and cranky Frank (George Clooney), in a race to save the world.
The production design for Tomorrowland is based on The World of Tomorrow exhibit from Disney World. It's a retro look at the future that's very well done and the best part of the film. Where Tomorrowland goes south is the murkiness of the story. It starts off brilliantly as a mystery, but then devolves into a series of chases; with each action scene getting successively bigger. All of this running around to save the world is based on a premise that Casey is special, different, the one who can change the future. She's a right smart gal and plucky as hell, but it's never quite explained why she is the key to humanity's survival. Also, the big threat reveal is sort of a letdown after two hours of buildup. Hugh Laurie, a tremendous actor, is kind of wasted as the villain. I didn't find him threatening at all. And he looks downright silly, like he's wearing a homemade cosplay costume.
The dream big to conquer fear message is a nice one. I think younger audiences will get past the plot hiccups. Hopefully it will resonate with them, if they aren't too bug-eyed by the special effects. Maybe my expectations for this film were too high. There are good moments in Tomorrowland, but not the jetpack ride I was hoping for.