Tomorrowland (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG)

Tomorrowland 75Though it is never as good as it could have been, because it is also never as bad as it could have been I wound up being pleased with Tomorrowland, in the end.

Tomorrowland 500

In terms of expectations, going into the press screening of Tomorrowland I was being pulled both ways. It’s directed by Brad Bird, the Pixar director who did The Incredibles and Ratatouille, not to mention working on The Simpsons and directed Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol elsewhere in his career. (Needless to say, I’m a fan.) Bird wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof, who is most closely associated with the TV series Lost, which I admittedly watched every single episode of, but in hindsight see that as a large amount of time wasted, as the show was never very good, apart from a few fleeting strong episodes. It stars George Clooney who, like most of the rest of the world, I like, but top billing aside the person with the most screen time is Britt Robertson, who I’ve so far seen in exactly two movies—she was great in 2012’s The First Time and awful in last year’s Ask Me Anything. (As of this writing, I haven’t seen her two highest-profile roles, in The Longest Ride earlier this year and on TV’s Under the Dome.) The point is, Tomorrowland could have easily gone either way. But the trailer was cool, and at least it wasn’t in 3-D.

As it happens, the first thirty minutes or so of Tomorrowland are pretty miserable. The bulk of them follow Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, as a child (played in youth by Thomas Robinson) navigating the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City; he’s built a semi-functional jetpack and wants to show it off. In doing so, he meets a discouraging man named Nix (Hugh Laurie) and an encouraging young British girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). At this time the movie leans cloying and also has the negative feature of looking like you’re watching a 2-D version of a 3-D release (not to advocate for more 3-D movies, though, as it certainly wouldn’t’ve improved Tomorrowland, even its irritating opening scenes). Through some non-compelling turns of event prompted by Athena, Frank winds up in the future, or, more specifically, Tomorrowland, which is recognizable by its particularly ugly skyline.

Once we finish up with the setup, though, we switch to a separate-but-related story involving Casey Newton (Robertson), a teenage activist and self-described optimist who spends her time trying to inhibit the imminent destruction of a nearby NASA launch site, upon which her father Eddie (Tim McGraw, good) works, and will lose his job once the site is destroyed. At this point the story picks up—all at once the special effects get better, the story gets more interesting, and memories of the shaky start begin to fade.

Obvious comparisons to last year’s Interstellar are bound to be made in discussions of the film, and there are some similarities, but the reason I expect them to dominate the conversation is because that’s the most recent film with themes similar to this one. There are a lot of other comparisons that could just as easily be drawn, though. The big one is of course Lost, what with its old-timey time travel nonsense and “We have to get back to the island” logic—sometimes Tomorrowland feels like a retread that’s been rebranded as a Disney family film, but on the whole Tomorrowland works better than Lost did. Or maybe it’s that Tomorrowland works a lot better than Lost’s bad episodes but maybe not quite as good as its good episodes (of which there were pitifully few). Meanwhile, on account of its PG rating you might be surprised by the level of violence and scariness in Tomorrowland, which calls to mind the violence from Edgar Wright’s The World’s End, in that it seems human-on-human, but you learn upon decapitation or other similarly-gruesome death that it had actually been human-on-robot violence all along. Finally, the icon for Tomorrowland, most often seen in the form of a colorful pin with a “T” on it, seems to be intentionally positioned here to be a marketable item of magic to young fans of the film, not unlike the bell from The Polar Express.

Though it is never as good as it could have been, because it is also never as bad as it could have been I wound up being pleased with Tomorrowland, in the end. Anyway, it’ll help pass the time as we wait for the new Pixar movie, Inside Out, to be released. | Pete Timmermann

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