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3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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by alejandroariera

"Methinks Brad Bird doth protest too much"
3 stars

Brad Bird believes in the power of ideas. His films celebrate what happens when we put our imagination and ingenuity to good use, whether that involves mixing the right ingredients for a superb dish (“Ratatouille”) or designing a brand new superhero costume (“The Incredibles”) or even climbing up the world’s tallest building with special high-tech gloves (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”). Bird’s new film, “Tomorrowland,” not only celebrates those qualities but it is also designed as a family-friendly antidote to those dystopian visions of our future that have become part and parcel of the entertainment we consume these days.

I wished I had liked “Tomorrowland” more. It is full of wondrous gadgets and sights: a retro rocketship coming out of the Eiffel Tower; jetpacks; gigantic construction robots; levitating platforms; cityscapes reminiscent of those amazing science-fiction pulp magazine covers of yesteryear. It offers us a vision of the future long denied us. But, “Tomorrowland” is all over the place tonally. This world full of wonders is often dragged down by sloppy storytelling and some speechifying. At times, it reminded me of those old Disney sci-fi adventures like “Escape from Witch Mountain” I use to enjoy as a kid; and, at times, the film wants to blow things up real good like those films Bird wishes to condemn.

The film is framed around what seems to be a recorded presentation by inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) and a teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) who keeps interrupting him. He begins with a doom-laden speech; she prods him into lightening it up, asks him to be more positive. With that brief exchange, Bird sets up the dialectic that’s supposed to drive much of the film’s point-of-view. Frank tells us how, as a young boy, he went to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, semi-functioning jetpack in hand, to enter into an inventor’s competition. There, he meets a young girl, Athena (a sparkling Raffey Cassidy), who gives him a badge that grants him access to this trans-dimensional world created by scientists and artists.

Casey then literally takes over the story and we return to the present. She is a curious teenager, full of ideas who, night after night, to save her father’s job as a NASA engineer, sabotages the dismantling of a launch platform in Cape Canaveral. Her actions catch the attention of Athena, who somehow has managed to evade growing up and growing old. Casey one day finds a Tomorrowland badge in her NASA cap; upon touching it she is shown a vision of that same wonderful, clean, exciting world Frank once was a part of.

Casey sets out to find the origin of the badge once its power runs out. Her search leads her to a science-fiction memorabilia store in Texas (cue gratuitous placement of Disney-approved “Star Wars”-related toys) and an army of deadly robots, some clad in black. Athena rescues her and they both hightail it to rural New York where a recluse and now bitter Frank lives. He is the only one who can take Casey back to Tomorrowland. The reason to go back? It involves a device created by Frank a long time ago, Casey’s can-do-optimism as a weapon to solve any issues related to the device and the end of the world. For a movie that decries dystopian cinema, it sure as hell doesn’t mind using one of its most abused tropes as a plot point.

For a movie that celebrates imagination and ingenuity, Bird and Lindelof rarely show us those two qualities at work: we only get the end results on screen, not the thought process behind it. Frank, Casey and Athena spend so much of the film’s 130-minute length running away from these robots that the script gives them very little room to showcase their intellectual gifts. Once they reach Tomorrowland in the film’s final act, they find a place almost uninhabited, dreary, lifeless, ruled by an authoritarian governor played by Hugh Laurie. In other words, a world no different than ours.

It helps little that each line of dialogue was written to hammer down Bird’s and co-scriptwriter Damon Lindelof’s critique of contemporary culture. Even though they have some valid points to make —especially in Laurie’s spot-on monologue by the end of the film— one can’t help but think that they are eating their cake and having it too. “Tomorrowland” doesn’t even want to acknowledge that this world was built, exclusively, by and for a privileged few…a group no different than the one percenters or even those so-called entrepreneurs who have upended the middle class with their so-called tech innovations. Even though in its final minutes the film acknowledges the need for a more diverse population to keep this world going, it does so in the most manipulative, tear-jerking inducing manner. It’s a small world after all, indeed.

Visually, “Tomorrowland” may be a thing to behold, but it never feels fully lived in the way “Metropolis,” “Blade Runner” and the Mad Max films do. It feels more like an amusement ride, a diorama, brought to life. All that’s missing from it is a celebratory song, the kind that you can’t get off your head for days. Uncle Walt would have been proud.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26981&reviewer=434
originally posted: 05/20/15 11:03:33
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User Comments

8/03/20 Dr.Lao As oveerhyped as Space Mountain and plodding as the Peoplemover 2 stars
6/01/15 Man Out Six Bucks NWO wetdream depopulated and inhabited with terminators 2 stars
5/27/15 Bob Dog Great despite the lack of editing! 5 stars
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  22-May-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

  22-May-2015 (12A)

  DVD: 13-Oct-2015

Directed by
  Brad Bird

Written by
  Brad Bird
  Damon Lindelof

  George Clooney
  Judy Greer
  Britt Robertson
  Hugh Laurie
  Kathryn Hahn
  Lochlyn Munro

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