“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
-John Connor (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
From 1960 until 1989, Disney Pictures released only 14 animated films. Even though they are primarily known for some of the best animation ever, the company really didn’t start its propulsion into an unstoppable cinema juggernaut until it embraced live-action films. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but I truly miss the magic of Mary Poppins, Shaggy Dog, Herbie: The Love Bug, and Escape to Witch Mountain. Tomorrowland returns Disney back to its heyday.
Brad Bird (The Incredibles) is the perfect combination of visionary and realist to pull off writer Damon Lindelof’s ruminative script. Bird and Lindelof are somewhat of an odd pairing, but in this case I think they are successful because the visual mastery outweighs the trite plot. Bird does an exceptional job bringing Tomorrowland to life. The film never relies on its great CGI but allows us just enough spectacle to want more.
George Clooney has been dubbed the lead, but to the film’s credit his role is merely a sage for Casey, played by Britt Robertson. Robertson is a huge shining star in this film. The 25-year-old actress plays a high schooler more convincingly than most teenagers do. Robertson is the typical protagonist. She is a bit of a rebel but also the smartest person in the room. Even though this is conventional, she rises above the story and solidifies Casey Newton in the pantheon of great Disney characters.
The rest of the cast is fantastic as well. The young duo of Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson are a revelation. The young actress shows an acting range far beyond her age. Robinson, who looks as though he might be Clooney’s real life son, is just as charming as the elder actor. Hugh Laurie plays smarmy as only he can.
Other than a lackluster plot, the only real problem is a too on the nose sermon about self-destruction. I understand that a film that constantly hits you over the head with a desired emotional response can seem insincere, but this is a film for adolescents. Separating our desire for a subtle discovery and the need for being handed a simple lesson is essential. As cinephiles, we can often forget that sometimes children’s movies are for children.
Tomorrowland is a beautiful piece of art. The film is visually astonishing and at its best when it is focused on Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy. Brad Bird’s direction is fun and unique. Clooney and Laurie are the perfect side characters they need to be. But the film’s true worth is in its message. Tomorrowland is a refreshing story of belief and faith. It asks its viewers to never stop dreaming and continue to pursue success in the face of certain defeat. Tomorrowland is the perfect message for our youth: hope!