Monday, June 01, 2015

Movie Review - Tomorrowland

In case you didn't see my super mini review on opening night, it consisted of a picture of the movie tickets, my own Tomorrowland pin and the words "loved loved loved loved loved it!" For those who know me and know the general gist and history of this movie, the mini-review shouldn't have been too surprising. I've been anticipating this movie for at least the last 3-4 years when initial rumors started becoming more concrete. Even with the slow filter of hints and rumors, the overall plot stayed fairly secret until fairly recently. With all that build up and hype I knew I would either completely love this film or it would suffer from an inability to live up to my expectations and be a total flop.

Glancing at some of the negative reviews I have to agree that there are some holes in the plot and some definite imbalances. I agree with the people I've talked with that I would have loved to have spent more time in the idyllic version of Tomorrowland and experience more of its shiny fun. Still, I can see a distinct risk in presenting TOO MUCH time in the utopian bright and wonderful Tomorrowland. The idea of Tomorrowland is a place where boundaries are truly pushed...a place where technology and innovation have taken huge leaps. By showing us just a few brief moments, the audience gets a sense of the grandeur and awe that's been created without spending so much time that we start to see beyond the smoke and mirrors. It allows more to be left to the imagination of the viewer which means the viewer will criticize their own personal interpretation of futurific leaps rather than those of the director (which could quickly become dated or look cheesy).

Right from the beginning of the film I was beaming with the huge smile of the Disney geek that I am as we followed a young Frank Walker in his visit to the 1964 World's Fair to present his invention in an inventor's competition. The scene starts with the musical backdrop of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", a fabulous Sherman Brothers song written for Disney's Carousel of Progress which happened to debut at that World's Fair. It was a great nod and a very fitting song to setup the movie.

Frank's interaction with the competition judge and a flashback to a scene with Frank's father seem ready to set up a stereotypical story of a genius child fighting against all odds to achieve something great. While this is a sliver of the plot, it fortunately didn't take center stage (in fact, the writers make fun of this trope later on in the movie). Through a series of events (which I won't spoil for you), Young Frank finds his way to Tomorrowland. At this time in the film, we only see a few minutes of what happens to him there and we don't get much information about this mystical city of the future, its purposes or its inhabitants.

At this point, we flash forward to present day (2014) and MINI SPOILER find a rebelious Casey sneaking onto a NASA shuttle launch platform and sabotaging the equipment set there to dismantle the platform. The framing of this scene seems to be to frame her as a no-good troublemaker but that concept is quickly destroyed by the scene the next morning where her actions are explained and we see her thoughtful and intelligent interaction with her family. During the night, a mysterious (yet familiar from the Tomorrowland scene) figure puts a special pin in Casey's stuff.

In a somewhat predictable turn of events, she gets caught in her next attempt to sabotage the platform equipment and is taken to jail. This leads to the scene from many/most of the trailers where Casey discovers the Tomorrowland pin that transports her (at least mentally) to Tomorrowland when she touches it. The crossover visual effects with the pin are pretty cool and the transition between real world and Tomorrowland is a great effect.

Once back in "the real world", Casey sets out to learn more about the pin and the cool futuristic place she's seen. This leads to some crazy confrontations with audio animatronics (as per Disney lingo...rather than "robots") and finally she meets the now 'old and curmudgeny' Frank Walker (George Clooney). Frank makes it painfully obvious that something went wrong with Tomorrowland and that he has no intent to go back nor does he think Casey should spend another thought on it. Eventually Casey's persistence (and the threats of more "audio animatronics" coming after them), convinces Frank to at least debrief Casey on some of the history of Tomorrowland and to help take her there.

I think it's at this point that a lot of the reviewers felt like the movie "jumped the shark." The backstory of the futurific city is intriguing but a little thin and the preparations and actions that Frank and Casey take to get there are fairly cheesy and filled with little holes. Still, the joy of the experience held me in and kept me smiling. The arrival in Tomorrowland showed a fallen utopia (as already alluded to in previous conversations) and results in a rather threatening confrontation with the inhabitants. We also get more insight into the "villain" of the movie and he naturally reveals his motivations and the problems facing the world.

The heart of this "evil plot" isn't anything terribly revolutionary or's been done in other books and movies over time but it is still an intriguing concept to consider and it's presented in a fun way. The final climactic confrontation is exciting and fun though I would've loved to have seen some more high tech gadgets and gizmos as opposed to the brute force, gymnastic martial arts style fighting. Still, it was played out pretty well. The final twist during the fight was a sneaky twist that made me smile even if it led to a more predictable end scenario.

The final wrap up scene of the movie left me with a huge grin and brought tears to my eyes. It was a little heavy handed in the way it pulled together the "message" of the movie that Bird and the other writers wanted to present. Still, this message is one that I love and the childlike, hopeful, optimistic part of me really wants to come true.

In this world of constant sequels, remakes and rehashes of the same material it's refreshing to see a fun, unique concept receive a mainstream release. If you're going into this film looking for an amazing action-adventure film or a zany futuristic comedy, you're sure to be disappointed. If you're looking for a deeply thought provoking message or some prescriptive fix for the ills in the world, you're probably going to be let down. But if you go in with the youthful enthusiasm for the world and a love for imagination and innovation, there's a good chance you'll enjoy this movie.

I loved it!  ...and I look forward to taking a return trip to Tomorrowland in the future.  :)

4.5 out of 5 stars

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