A film based on a Disney theme park land? That’s ridiculous you cry, but Pirates Of The Caribbean was not the most natural source for cinematic mining and yet here we sit expecting a fifth film in that franchise. Suffice to say Tomorrowland comes from the Disney stable and is heavily influenced by Walt Disney’s hopeful vision of the future. Something modern sci-fi doesn’t really do, instead it prefers rain-soaked vistas such as Blade Runner, or over-populated chaos in the vein of The Fifth Element. But director Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof have conjured something not only different but wholly exciting to boot.
In 1964 aspiring inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) travels to the World’s Fair in the hopes of winning an inventor prize for his jetpack. But the man judging it, Nix (Hugh Laurie), doesn’t see the point. Thankfully young girl Athena (Raffey Cassidy) does and invites Frank to join her in Tomorrowland; a wonderful place where all the inventors, artists and dreamers of the world have gathered to create a utopia. But somewhere along the line the dream gets lost. In the present day teenager Casey (Britt Robertson) finds a Tomorrowland pin that allows her to glimpse the mythical world. Determined to find it she sets about tracking down Frank (now a grown-up George Clooney) who is only too aware of the perils Casey’s curious mind has put them both in.
The point of Tomorrowland, the theme park attraction, is to make you dream, and make you dream big. And Tomorrowland the film brings that dream to breath-taking life. From the get-go it is a film of pure joy and rollercoaster-like thrills. At one point Casey, a wide-eyed heroine who always has hope burning bright, straps into a rocket and screams “WOOHOO” as it launches into the stratosphere. It’s a sentiment you’ll want to mimic on numerous occasions throughout the fleeting two-plus hour running time.
Because at its heart Tomorrowland is a hark back to the heyday of Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. A proper throwback summer blockbuster that will have kids and adults alike whooping for joy. Remember the first time you saw E.T. or Back To The Future, or The Goonies, or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind? That’s the kind of feeling of sheer exhilaration Tomorrowland will give you. If you’re an adult it transports you back to a time of childlike wonder and amazement, if you’re a kid it’s going to strap you in and make your head-spin before you demand mum and dad take you to see it again, and again, and again.
Lindelof’s script zips along at a hell of a pace, rarely letting up, but that’s what the best rides in the park do; they take your breath away. Bird meanwhile is something of a past master at creating something both retro and futuristic; that sense of old-school made new-school. See The Incredibles or The Iron Giant as prime examples. With Tomorrowland you sense he’s having as much fun as we are, throwing endless visual gags and asides to keep the well-trained eye burning bright. Indeed given his Pixar origins it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to see Tomorrowland as a Pixar animation made real. Special mention should also go to composer Michael Giacchino whose score captures a playful side always injected with a hint of peril and topped off nicely with resounding adventure. It’s reminiscent of classic John Williams at play here, only adding to that sense of Spielberg/Amblin nostalgia.
Clooney is on typically curmudgeonly form, the kind of form he displayed to Oscar nominated levels in The Descendants. But more than that it’s Clooney’s ability to keep things light, he is essentially the comic relief with his glib attitude that bounces well off Robertson’s marvel. Robertson carries the film as if she’s been leading big budget fare all her career. There’s a sense of confidence to her performance that allows you to buy into Casey’s eternal optimism. Meanwhile Cassidy is quite the find. As Athena she manages to be that rare example of a child actor you genuinely adore rather than want to throttle. The fact that she manages to go toe-to-toe with Clooney and often come out looking the more mature of the two is no small feat for one so young.
An original film that by all rights should have been released in the 1980s, Tomorrowland is a cinematic attraction that would make Walt Disney proud.