Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action Violence and Peril, Thematic Elements, and Language
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Damon Lindelof & Brad Bird
Starring: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn & Keegan-Michael Key
Disney has milked four (soon to be five) movies out of their pirate ride and one (soon to be two) film(s) out of their haunted mansion. TOMORROWLAND (a section at Disneyland as opposed to a single ride or attraction) seemed like an odd choice to adapt into a film on from the beginning. However, a lot of folks (including myself) were getting stoked when they saw that Brad Bird (RATATOUILLE, THE INCREDIBLES) was directing and co-writing this project. The marketing material has sold itself as a spectacular futuristic adventure. In spite of the commercials, this isn’t all jet-packs and robots. In fact, there’s a message at play that’s heavy-handed to say the least. I’m really mixed on how present my thoughts about TOMORROWLAND, because I really loved the first half of this movie…then it fell apart in the second half.
Casey is an optimistic teenager with an interest in science. She’s constantly sabotaging a construction site near her house that’s tearing down a NASA launching pad and as a result, winds up getting arrested. A stranger has taken notice of Casey’s ambition and gives her a mysterious pin. When holding this pin, Casey is transported to the futuristic dimension known as Tomorrowland. However, the pin has a time limit on it and soon runs out of power. In an effort to solve the mystery of what Tomorrowland is and how she can visit it again, Casey tracks down former boy-genius Frank Walker. However, their potential trip to the other dimension lands them in hot water as they might not exactly be welcomed with open arms into this other world…
TOMORROWLAND is not what’s being advertised as and that’s a very good thing during the first half of this film. There’s a significant amount of time devoted to developing both Casey and Frank (through various flashbacks) as our mismatched protagonists. Britt Robertson makes Casey an instantly likable character who sticks out from her peers. George Clooney plays Frank as a reluctant hero who sees potential in Casey, but is also dealing with emotional baggage of his own. Then there’s the young actress Raffey Cassidy who plays a cool character that I won’t reveal any details about in this review (no spoilers). These are three likable heroes/heroines who aren’t given the massive adventure that they deserve with a script that’s mostly front-loaded.
Parents going into this expecting the clean-cut likes of CINDERELLA might want to be cautioned, because TOMORROWLAND takes some ballsy risks for a PG-rated kids movie. There are a few cool action scenes that involve human-looking robots being torn apart and one particular shot made me laugh a bit out of the shock that I was seeing this violent visual in Disney movie. The effects are pretty amazing and the main sequence in the beginning of Casey visiting Tomorrowland stands out as the best scene in the whole film. I was whisked away with her into this land of magic and whimsy and I wanted this movie to maintain that vibe, but it didn’t. As ambitious and exciting as the journey of getting to Tomorrowland is, the film loses a lot of steam once our heroes actually arrive in the futuristic city. If you’re expecting jet-packs and robots everywhere as well as massive sequences through this other dimension, you’re likely to be disappointed. The script drags in the second half to a degree where most kids will likely be bored and the plot seems to be making itself up as it goes along from that midway point.
There are plot holes and vague revelations found in the second half that construct an overly familiar story, which makes the whole movie feel that much more disappointing. At various points throughout the film, Disney also seems to be referencing itself way too much. A scene in the opening takes place in a specific Disney ride and I had to roll my eyes a bit. Then there’s a bunch of distracting STAR WARS nods in an otherwise fun action scene down the line. It’s almost as if Disney is reveling in their new acquisition on-screen before Episode VII even hits in December. Hugh Laurie is usually a solid actor, but he plays one of the blandest villains in Disney history. His character just isn’t that interesting, has confusing motivations, and ultimately, I didn’t care about him or find him the least bit threatening. To top it all off, there’s an obvious message being thrown at the viewer over and over during the final third that comes off as extremely cheesy and overly preachy. When we have three monologues repeating the same points, I kind of wanted to yell in the theater “Alright, we understand! Now, can we just move this along, movie!”
Aside from a few reboots, Disney really hasn’t had a great live-action film hit the big screen in quite some time. I had high hopes for TOMORROWLAND and it certainly is an ambitious movie. I truly loved the first half of this film and thought the character development was handled well. However, the second half suffers from plot holes, a lame villain, preachy monologues and an underwhelming finale. If this entire movie had been as fantastic as the first half was, I’d consider TOMORROWLAND as a potential modern classic. As it stands, the imagination on display goes to waste in a muddled disappointment from Disney.