Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie
Running Time: 130 minutes
Release Date: May 22nd
Everything about the way Disney have handled this release seems to spell out that they have absolutely no idea what kind of film they have on their hands. From the loudly launched then quietly snuffed out viral campaign that began around the same time the film was announced, to the hastily added but mostly pointless subtitle, to the vague bordering on boring trailers and posters; you’d be forgiven for thinking that Disney thought they might have an expensive dud on their hands, à la The Lone Ranger or John Carter. Their fears can now be assuaged, as Tomorrowland is one of the best family-friendly movies to come along in a long time, but it becomes all too clear as to why it was such a difficult film to promote properly.
Video game fans will find plot parallels to Bioshock, while everyone else will see reflections of Escape to Witch Mountain in here, but the best way to visit Tomorrowland is with as little knowledge as possible, so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you’d like to remain blissfully unaware. Still here? Okay, on we go: teenage genius Casey Newton (a very likeable Britt Robinson) is given a glimpse into a futuristic society filled with scientific and creative geniuses by one of its natives, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), so they go in search of the only man who might be able to get them back in, Frank Walker (George Clooney, channelling Robert Downey Jnr), a former boy genius and current grumpy loner who was kicked out of Tomorrowland decades earlier by its leader David Nix (Hugh Laurie, underused but a treat as always) when one of his inventions when awry.
Director and co-writer Brad Bird has somehow miraculously managed to convert the wide-eyed wonder of his two best animated features – The Iron Giant and The Incredibles – into a live-action movie and ear-marked himself as a proper successor to Spielberg’s throne. There is such a uniquely clarified vision at work here, most of which may go over many viewer’s heads. The sublime edits when Casey initially discovers a pin that instantly transports her into another world are flawless, while her first full-length visit to Tomorrowland is played out in one long tracking shot filled with tremendous special effects. Tomorrowland itself is quite different to the normal future worlds we’re used to seeing in cinema; a properly working utopia, all beautifully designed architecture and gleaming skyscrapers of glass and steel.
While the movie is mostly show and tell, when the action does kick in, it’s clear that Bird hasn’t forgotten anything he learned from his Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol gig. An invasion at Walker’s home results in highly satisfying shoot-out complete with lots of laser guns, while Disney put their newly acquired rights to work in a fight scene set within a sci-fi paraphernalia store (Hi, Han Solo!). Bird is also not afraid to take some risks, with the kids put in very real peril, and one particular relationship develops in a way that we can’t decide if it’s is ballsy or creepy. One or two more big action scenes wouldn’t have gone amiss, while some distractingly straggly loose ends (Judy Greer pops up as Casey’s mom for all of three seconds, for example) and a rushed final act prevent the film from becoming truly great.
As far as movies-based-on-their-own-theme-parks go, this is more Pirates of the Caribbean and less The Haunted Mansion, and unlike with Jack Sparrow, we’re already looking forward to a potential return to Tomorrowland.