Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland suffers from its jumbled opening and inconsistent tone but there is the occasional spark.
Disney’s Tomorrowland, an ode to the utopian future Walt envisioned when he conceived Epcot, is an old-school movie of good triumphing over evil through explosions and optimism despite its jet packs, flying trains, and audio-animatronics (androids to you and me).
As a movie aimed at children however, it introduces far too many questions and characters too early in the movie. The first five minutes are a jumble of juxtaposed people and even periods of time, presenting viewers with too many whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys without providing the context until later in the movie, sometimes significantly so.
Why is Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) breaking into NASA? Who is George Clooney’s Frank? Who is this kid with a jetpack in the 1960s?
Many novels are said to take the approach of a major opening in the first chapter followed by an info-dump in the second. Tomorrowland is no novel of course, but skipping a dramatic or even straightforward opening and throwing so much information at viewers so early without explanation makes garnering any meaningful connection to the characters on screen difficult at that point. The intro info-dump moves back and forward in time as Casey repeatedly interrupts Frank, making it hard for anyone to follow with a great degree of interest. Indeed, Frank asks Casey whether something she says needed to be mentioned, one gets the impression that the entire segment of the movie did not.
While the intro ultimately ties into the ending, there’s no way to know at the time.
From there the movie offers a sense of wonder at times, the joy indeed, of being in Disney World for the first time as a child. The promise of far flung space travel being the norm for the citizens of Tomorrowland and its harmonious utopian vision for a better future brought about by technology and “dreamers” feels very Star Trek, while the warning of environmental collapse, wars, riots, and other disasters often ventures into preachy territory.
The Tomorrowland Casey ultimately finds is more akin to Rapture from the BioShock games after the fall of Andrew Ryan’s dream, with Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix playing a cynical character kept youthful for decades by chocolate tasting pills. Nix is, in a sense, Doctor Gregory House without the American accent. His nefarious plans are inevitably defeated yet, once again, his speeches about faster-than-light tachyon particles are sure to go over the heads of most kids, and perhaps some of the adults, watching. A child of around nine was sitting behind me during the premiere and frequently asked questions throughout the movie, annoying (though not so much as her chair kicking habit), but indicative also.
That is not to say the movie is without its moments, such as the emergence of a 19th century rocketship built by Eiffel, Tesla, and Edison from the base of the Eiffel Tower, but on the whole, the sense of wonder director Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof were trying to aim for is all too fleeting.
Tomorrowland might have been a great feel good movie for the entire family but its inconsistencies in tone and initially confusing opening drag down the experience, while kids will find much to be confused about rather than marvel at. It certainly isn’t a ‘bad’ movie by any means but if you’re tempted to watch it when it arrives in cinemas this later this week I’d suggest saving your money and waiting until it arrives on Netflix instead.