Review by C.J. Bunce
There is plenty to like about The Incredibles’ director Brad Bird’s 2015 release, Tomorrowland, now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital media. Tomorrowland has a great, positive message about the potential of thinkers and dreamers, and it showcases a beautiful future world, but somehow it just doesn’t dazzle like it could. Still, enough positive vibes and ideas are steeped into this film that the right person watching this movie will find it to be inspirational.
One of the best features is a decommissioned robot named Athena (that we’d label an excellent borg except we’re not sure biological elements or living matter may be part of her) played by young actress Raffey Cassidy (Cassidy played the daughter Beatrice in Season One of Mr. Selfridge). In every scene she is so perfect in her role that her diction and appearance might convince you she will be shown later as an adult played by Emily Blunt (that doesn’t happen, but she’s a dead ringer).
Sadly Tomorrowland struggles with what kind of movie it wants to be. Is this a fantasy or science fiction movie, or both? Visually the Tomorrowland parallel world scenes feel much like the mix of sci-fi and fantasy from classic Flash Gordon–a great component of the movie watching experience. But you must watch more than two-thirds of the film before being able to grasp a clear plot, and get fully immersed in that other world. To get where the story is trying to get plenty of world building is apparently required. It’s unfortunate because Tomorrowland couldn’t address a more interesting subject: Why didn’t the future we envisioned 60 years ago come to pass? (Where are our jet packs?!)
It’s a question science fiction writers wrestle with all the time: If I am going to predict a future technology or development, how many years from now should I say it will be achieved? And will it come about at all at any time? If you peg the breakthrough in your own lifetime, you may be left to face criticism when that date finally arrives. See Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, James Cameron’s Terminator series, all of those Philip K. Dick novel adaptations, and more recently, Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future II predictions–many got elements of the future right, but many didn’t.
You could hardly have two more stern and serious actors to lead a film about positivism and progress than George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Clearly from a story standpoint they are meant to contrast the hopefulness of star Britt Robertson’s Casey Newton. But for a movie about progress and utopia, that utopia was missing some joy that could have helped at least from a less stilted Clooney (whose younger incarnation was more on point as played by Thomas Robinson). There’s simply not enough awe and enchantment here, certainly for a Disney movie and subject Walt Disney himself cared so much about. Only Robertson–a 25-year-old actress playing a teenaged girl–is left to convey all the “oohs” and “ahhs”. Saving the world, evading an apocalypse, preserving the environment and NASA through ideas and inventions are such grand goals that it’s odd that the story takes so much time to get there (and to Tomorrowland), and once there the movie has run out of minutes and the story ends too quickly.
The costume and set design for the parallel world scenes and re-creation of the 1964 World’s Fair were superbly done with many believable, seemingly possible visions of a future reality. The special effects, particularly when Clooney and Robertson finally join together and must escape his home achieve the roller coaster ride fun you’d expect from a Disneyland-based property. Michael Giacchino’s score doesn’t match the wonder and awe that the film needed, and something with more of the adventure and excitement of his The Incredibles’ soundtrack would have worked better here.
Look for comedians Keegan-Michael Key from Whose Line is It Anyway? and Parks and Recreation’s Kathryn Hahn in a great toy store scene.
Check out Tomorrowland, a fun watch despite its stumbling story, now on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital media, available here at Amazon.com.