Tomorrow is not what it used to be. With that sentiment, and a seriously grumpy George Clooney, Tomorrowland is out the starting gate and off on a roller coaster of a ride from past to potential future and back again. Along the way, evil robots are defeated, the Eiffel Tower turns out to be a rocket in disguise, and the end of the world is averted. For now.
The importance of being hopeful
It’s a film about pessimism – and hope. The world, our world, has bought a one-way ticket to destruction. Meanwhile, in another place, another time, Tomorrowland is all that we could be, if only we’d listened to the likes of Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla.
Once upon a time, Tomorrowland tried to help us. The story begins with a young Frank Walker (Clooney) visiting the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, to show off his non-functioning jet pack invention. There he is spotted by Tomorrowland recruiter, Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who presents him with a special “pin” (badge) that whisks him away to a world of enlightenment and science.
Fast forward half a century and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), is engaged in some hi-tech sabotage in an attempt to stop the modern luddites from tearing down what is left of the US space programme. Talent-spotted by Athena, who has aged not a jot in the intervening 50 years, Casey, too, visits Tomorrowland.
This, though, turns out to be temporary. In her ensuing attempts to get back in, it turns out they no longer want her brand of genius. Cue cross-country chase to escape aforementioned evil robots, and discover a now cynical and grizzled Frank, who has fallen seriously out of love with Tomorrowland and at first refuses to help her.
But of course he does and in the end, it is Casey’s optimism that wins the day, turning the tables first on Frank and then on Nix (Hugh Laurie) a nicely ambiguous adversary: a villain, not because he wants to rule the world (he already does), but because his solutions to humanity’s ills are, in the end, utterly inhumane; and because he has an English accent. Naturally!
It’s fun, even if it is a bit clunky: not so much paying homage to other films through subtle reference, as kidnapping entire images wholesale. There’s “time travel” (shades of Terminator): black-suited enforcement androids (Matrix), and the whole chase sequence brought to mind another Disney classic: Escape to Witch Mountain.
Meanwhile, the future is decidedly retro. Not just the jet pack obsession, but the costumes, the colour palette, the entire Tomorrowland landscape bring to mind the future not as we imagine it today, but as we imagined it once upon a time. Or, as UK audiences may be less aware, the Tomorrowland of Disney theme parks, which showcases how Walt Disney himself saw the future back in the 50’s and 60’s.
Last but by no means least, Tomorrowland appears to represent part of Disney’s continuing efforts to repackage itself as a progressive force in the world today. If Frozen gave us feminism and sisters doing it for themselves, Tomorrowland is a stark environmentalist warning, delivered without being overly heavy-handed.
No masterpiece: but bright, bouncy and fun – and if you are still looking for ways to entertain your children over the half term holiday, Tomorrowland easily fits the bill.