The makers of “Tomorrowland” got so wrapped up in the grand elements of their cautionary tale about a world without dreamers that they lost in the basic elements of filmmaking. In their defense, it’s hard to see the small thing when you are sitting on top of such a massively high horse.
Brandishing a sweeping sword of good intentions, “Tomorrowland” follows the efforts of Frank (George Clooney), a former boy genius, and Casey (Britt Robertson), a teen with enough optimism to change the world. Both are recruited by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a mysterious young girl with a lot of secrets.
When she enlists young Frank to come to a utopian world — built around a structure that looks exactly like the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland — life is good. By the time Casey shows up, all has fallen into despair and ruin. Frank and Casey must find a way to bring intellectual and emotional life back to the world before it is too late.
The details may sound a little muddled but that’s because the screenplay by “Lost” writer and co-creator Damon Lindelof, is a mish-mash of ideas and genres that range from sci-fi parody to an incredible commercial for Disney. As he did with “Lost,” core themes are buried under so many convoluted ideas that it is often hard to remain engaged.
At one moment, Casey is on a serious search for a way to get to this beautiful world she’s glimpsed and the next second she’s battling a couple of goofy shop owners about the origin of a magical pin given only to the best of dreamers. A group of robots who look like extras from “Men in Black” grinning like Cheshire Cats are trying to stop Athena’s search.
(Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read a spoiler.) This wonderful society has figured out how to see into the past and future. Catching Athena should be no problem if her future moves can be seen. Such is the flaw that occurs when dealing with any version of time travel.
“Tomorrowland” pinballs through a variety of ideas interrupted by passionate speeches about how mankind is not trying hard enough. Optimism has been replaced by a doomsday acceptance. Hope and caring bumped out by apathy and ignorance.
All of this is presented through some amazing imagery from director Brad Bird. He’s managed to blend the 1960s vision of the future that Walt Disney presented through his theme parks and television shows with a modern sensibility to create a retro-bleak existence.
The best thing Bird did was cast Robertson (“Life Unexpected”). The wide-eyed optimism she projects keeps “Tomorrowland” from collapsing under its own doom and gloom. Her work is so strong it creates an infectious feeling that the world does need more dreamers.
Cassidy brings a sweet charm and logic that offers a nice counterbalance to Robertson’s enthusiasm. The pair work well together even in scenes that don’t quite fit the flow of the film.
Clooney’s capable, but he is generally reduced role of narrator, a job of great importance as the script often gets lost. When a movie needs this much on-screen explanation, it means the story is in disarray. This script could have used a few less dreamers and a couple more realists to make a solid series of elements fit better together.