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28 May 2015

A Dazzling, Confusing Future: 'Tomorrowland' Is a Fun, if Convoluted, Film

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Britt Robertson in Tomorrowland. Britt Robertson in Tomorrowland.

The future is confusing and convoluted—but kind of cool anyway—in Tomorrowland, the latest Disney attraction to get its own movie, in this case courtesy of director-writer Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles).

Boy-genius Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) and his jetpack attend the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, N.Y., in a wonderful sequence that re-creates the legendary event. After sparring with the curator of an invention contest (Hugh Laurie), the despondent boy winds up sulking on a bench, where he is given a special pin by a mysterious young girl named Athena (the absolutely incredible Raffey Cassidy).

During a ride through “It’s a Small World” (which Walt Disney actually premiered at the fair), Frank finds himself transported into a strange world, seemingly in the future, where robots repair his jetpack, and Athena resides. In short, it’s a world where inventive people like Frank can thrive.

Cut to the present day, where a super-intelligent teenage girl, Casey (25-year-old Britt Robertson wearing a baseball cap to appear younger), is trying to sabotage the destruction of a Cape Canaveral launch site. She wants to be an astronaut someday, and her dad (Tim McGraw) is a NASA engineer, so the lack of a space program is a big bummer for Casey. She, too, is given a pin by Athena. Casey touches the pin, and is instantly transported to Tomorrowland.

After a brief stay, she’s transported back home, much to her chagrin. She eventually winds up in the company of a grown-up Frank Walker (George Clooney … hooray!), who has become a hermit living in a New York house littered with gadgets. Clooney is perfect in the role of a former dreamer who has grown up to be bitter, although Walker still has the time and gumption to make a bathtub that transforms into a rocket.

Everything eventually leads to another Tomorrowland visit, where we discover things about the fate of the place—and Earth itself. On the way to the halfway decent finale, Bird provides some great battles involving ticked-off robots, dazzling special effects filled with fun Disney Easter eggs (You can see Space Mountain in the Tomorrowland skyline!) and some truly great performances.

The true star of this movie is Cassidy, a relative newcomer who owns her every second of screen time. Her performance, as a futuristic scout with big secrets and an ability to kick major ass, is one of the year’s best so far.

Robertson is a mighty fun protagonist, and gets the most screen time. Her character is some sort of child prodigy, although it’s never fully revealed why she is that way. While the character isn’t fully fleshed out, Robertson is a winning-enough presence that it’s easy to forgive the shortcomings in the script. Again, she’s playing way below her age, but she pulls it off.

Clooney gets to mix a bit of his cantankerous persona with his gentle side. He has classic Hollywood looks that are right at home in a Disney film. This is one of his funnest roles in years.

The script was co-written by Lost and Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof, so, naturally, all of the dots don’t seem to be connected. Lindelof’s work can be a little ambiguous, and even confusing, but it’s always interesting. If you like your movies tied up in a nice little bow, the works of Lindelof are not for you. As for me, I have a fun time trying to figure his stuff out, even if I don’t come up with all of the answers.

The film’s production was shrouded in secrecy, which may have actually hurt it to some extent, because some might attend Tomorrowland looking for more than what they actually get. The big reveals don’t necessarily live up to all of the hype. Even so, this is a fun film, with some great ideas that provide a cool mythology for one of Disney’s most popular attractions.

Tomorrowland is playing at theaters across the valley.

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