Review: Tomorrowland

tomorrowland-a-world-beyond-600x857Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy

Directed by Brad Bird

Released by Disney on 22nd May.

Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a highly innovative and resourceful girl stuck in a small town and all too aware that the financial climate has taken its toll on everything she sees. Her loving single-parent father is a NASA employee reduced to helping decommission the nearby launch-base and her teachers are less interested in challenging perceptions than most of her fellow pupils.

Her attempts to forestall the final closure of the launch-base land her in jail for the evening, but when she’s released, she finds a strange button/pin that wasn’t in her belongings when she arrived. Touching it, she’s instantly transported to a vision of another world, full of rocket-ships, gleaming spires and a population of happy, inspired people.

In the face of disbelief from her family (and even thinking she must be going crazy herself) Casey sets about finding as much information on the pin as she can. But her tenacity for the truth places her in terrible danger. There are those who want the world of Tomorrowland to remain firmly in the shadows of yesterday… but one girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy) believes Casey may be mankind’s last, best hope.

As time begins to run out, Casey is driven to find a man called Frank Walker (George Clooney). He once found his own way to Tomorrowland but is now banished forever. It soon becomes apparent that Casey’s future, Frank’s redemption and the end of the world are all tied to that mysterious far off city…

With cinema often divided between unchallenging, generic kiddie-fare and adult entertainment that revels in raising the benchmark on battlefield trauma, the true all-ages ‘family-movie’ is something of an endangered species. Enter stage left – and with a popcorn bucket full to the brim with a positive attitude – the much-anticipated Tomorrowland, arguably the benevolent shot-in-the-arm that a weathered multiplex so desperately needed.

It’s not that the film is ground-breaking or boundary-pushing, but more how it channels its positive vibe into an engaging story, well-constructed set-pieces and the innate way it markets some of the magic you used to believe in. In short: classic Disney.

tomorrowland-uk-poster-clooney-robertsonThere’s an argument to be made that while the film brings that warm fuzzy glow to the heart, it isn’t wholly original. Yes, at times, it does indeed feel like a patchwork of other classics… but its lineage (through the likes of BIG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Narnia stories, The Rocketeer and many more) is worn on its sleeve with pride rather than with apology. The stitching is just as interesting as the canvas… the movie being a celebration of the fantasy genre itself as much as of any one example. Equally, this is the work of director Brad Bird, whose own contributions include the likes of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles – milestone animation entries worthy of a place in anyone’s collection – and the live-action Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which proved he could handle more traditional action. Here his mix of action and heart is as finely tuned as ever.

If there are any problems it’s the sheer quantity of ideas being thrown at the screen. A sequence set in Paris is dazzling on the eye and even name-checks the likes of Nikolai Tesla (continuing his on-screen rehabilitation as one of the most important innovators and inventors in history) but it also feels like an unnecessary detour that could have been snipped out of the film to slightly prune its running-time. Equally, it’s true that while an early scene in a toy/memorabilia store is entertaining and action-packed, it is full of so much self-referential Disney and sci-fi ephemera that it makes the Jurassic Park souvenir shop in the movie of the same name look positively subtle.

Cast-wise, Clooney is a man to admire on many levels. As an actor he frequently chooses mainstream and independent projects that defy every attempt to pigeon-hole him and, away from the screen, he has proven just as capable of supporting causes… which he researches and can speak about at length and with authority. He was an obvious and effective candidate for the film’s leading man, a character who needs to confront a literal and metaphorical doomsday clock of hope vs. despair. (They brought me a script and funnily enough said that they’d written it with me in mind. Then I read the description: ’55 year old, angry, bitter, has-been’. I thought ‘Really… ‘formerly handsome’?” he jokes) Britt Robertson (late of The Secret Circle and Under the Dome) is good, imbuing the traditional spunky teenager with a bit of depth and humour and Hugh Laurie walks a fine line as Tomorrowland’s overseer, a character whose arguments arguably hold more moral water than the usual screen antagonists. Relative newcomer Raffey Cassidy (as Athena) has an ethereal presence throughout and scattered hither and yon are also a fair amount of cameos from other recognisable genre faces – watch out for Paul McGillion (Stargate Atlantis), Garry Chalk (everything!) and the late martial arts star Darren Shahlavi in minor, but fun roles.

Tomorrowland-pinVerdict: Over-packed and broadstroked though it might be, Tomorrowland brings together the remits to amaze and inspire and the result is a ‘message’ film that never forgets that it also needs to be entertaining. Tomorrowland, despite its title, is a film that is more about the past and the present (in sense of practice) and about the future (in terms of aspiration). It would take a dark heart not to celebrate the things it gets wholly and warmly right and if Brad Bird continues to make timeless charmers like this then he is more the heir apparent to the Spielberg legacy than most. 9/10

John Mosby

 

 

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