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Tomorrowland Movie Review

Tomorrowland Blu-ray combo cover art
Tomorrowland is now available on home video. Read our review of the Blu-ray combo.

Tomorrowland (2015) movie poster Tomorrowland

Theatrical Release: May 22, 2015 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Brad Bird / Writers: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird (screenplay & story), Jeff Jensen (story)

Cast: George Clooney (John Francis "Frank" Walker), Hugh Laurie (Governor David Nix), Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Tim McGraw (Eddie Newton), Kathryn Hahn (Ursula Gernsback), Keegan-Michael Key (Hugo Gernsback), Chris Bauer (Frank's Dad), Thomas Robinson (Young Frank Walker), Pierce Gagnon (Nate Newton), Matthew MacCaull (Dave Clark), Judy Greer (Jenny Newton)

Buy Tomorrowland from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack • DVD • Instant Video

Do not assume because of its title that Tomorrowland joins The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion,
and Pirates of the Caribbean in the class of films based on Disney theme park attractions. Though it does include some homage to the enduring identically named area of the parks, this is an entirely original sci-fi adventure which comes to us from writer-director Brad Bird and "Lost" creator Damon Lindelof.

Like Bird's first Disney movie (The Incredibles), Tomorrowland opens with some direct camera addresses from outside the film's primary chronology. A man introducing himself as Frank (George Clooney) speaks about the world's future, which is ominous enough to be represented by declining digits in a primitive doomsday clock. The future wasn't always so bleak, Frank tells us. With that, we're taken back to the 1964 New York World's Fair, where, as a young boy, Frank (Thomas Robinson) submits a nearly functional jet pack of his own design as an entry into an inventions contest with a $50 prize.

Frank's creation is marginalized by one of the judges (Hugh Laurie), but catches the eye of Athena (a standout Raffey Cassidy), a young British-accented girl who instructs him to follow her party's It's a Small World boat ride to a secretive place of advanced scientific expression. The scientific curiosity displayed by young Frank is also present in Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a conscientious Florida teenager of today. Casey's father, a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw), is soon to be out of a job and she is taking whatever action is necessary, legal or not, to delay the closure of the launch facility where he has worked.

When Casey's stealthy activism lands her in jail, she leaves with a pin which she discovers teleports her to a futuristic world when she touches it. She does not leave our world in the process, simultaneously moving around both worlds while experiencing time in the other. When the pin's timer expires and, with it, its powers of teleportation, Casey looks to find another pin like it. Her Internet searches lead her to a Houston store of sci-fi memorabilia run by a couple (Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key) who are not the harmless eccentrics they initially seem. This encounter gives Casey some understanding of the implications of her journey, which takes further shape when Athena, who hasn't aged since 1964, refers her to track down Frank, now a middle-aged inventor.

Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland" stars Britt Robertson as Casey Newton, a conscientious teenaged delinquent who gets a glimpse of an exciting future.

Tomorrowland has the feel of a movie that Steven Spielberg might have produced in the 1980s. That is not to say that it is old-fashioned or behind the times, only that its make-up and storytelling sensibilities recall those of an earlier generation's hit movies. Bird, who made his live-action debut on 2011's franchise-reviving Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, knows the action and effects needs of a 2015 tentpole and provides accordingly. But he and Lindelof also know that ideas and fun are what keep a film in favor long after its visuals cease to be cutting-edge. The two, who share story credit with Entertainment Weekly writer Jeff Jensen, pack Tomorrowland with the substance that might grant it immortality.

There are some minor echoes of Interstellar, which must be coincidental given the overlapping schedules and covert nature of the two productions. There's also a little bit to recall the "everyone's special,

therefore no one is" social commentary of The Incredibles. For the most part, though, Tomorrowland avoids derivation and homage, standing quite tall and proud on its own concepts. Not every one of them is a home run and there isn't the feel that Bird is hitting upon something deep and profound as he did on The Incredibles, arguably the definitive superhero film. But the entertainment is generally appealing and comes through with messages you can't help but appreciate as timely and important.

Tomorrowland isn't as strong comedically as you'd expect it to be, given Bird's track record. But even if you don't find the film especially funny, you should find it fun. A good example of that comes in the sci-fi store sequence, a shrine to not only Bird's past work in animation (merch from "The Simpsons", The Iron Giant, and The Incredibles is all on sale), but other major cultural contributions from live-action cinema, from Star Wars to Planet of the Apes to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Entertainment value is trumped by storytelling, something you may find muddled among set pieces, chases, and somewhat ambiguous audio animatronic antagony. But by the time Laurie resurfaces to deliver a knock-out monologue about humanity's defeatist nature and inability to combat problems, you'll realize that Bird and company aren't just making an expensive summertime diversion; they have real things to say about the world as it is and how it one day might be. It is an added bonus that, contrary to convention, they are doing so with two strong female protagonists who never feel like a demographic ploy.

George Clooney plays John Francis Walker, an inventor grappling with the fact that the planet seems headed for extinction.

With the exception of mega-star Clooney and Laurie, Tomorrowland seems to fill its roles with actors either relatively or wholly unknown. That is in character for Bird, who has typically cast actors for their character suitability rather than star power. For Clooney, who is absent from the film for long stretches, this project is out of character. Apart from his Spy Kids cameos and, to some degree, Fantastic Mr. Fox, he hasn't made anything kid-oriented in a long time. This also marks only his second summer season opening since 2000's The Perfect Storm, as he has long been associated with prestige works with awards potential. Timing alone ensures that Tomorrowland will not be classified as such a thing, even though the reviews should be fairly favorable given the amount of thought on display.

If nothing else, Tomorrowland is worth celebrating as something different this day and age, especially at Disney: an original film, not based on anything. One that doesn't lend to a sequel or action figures, belong to a cinematic universe, model itself after an earlier hit, or cleanly fit into a brand or series. Tomorrowland is big budget, effects-heavy entertainment, but it's far from mindless or escapist or trivial. Transformers, this is not.

Buy Tomorrowland from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo Pack / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
WALL•E • Meet the Robinsons • Interstellar • Saving Mr. Banks • John Carter
Flight of the Navigator • The Black Hole • I Am Number Four • Race to Witch Mountain
Directed by Brad Bird: The Incredibles • Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol • Ratatouille
Written by Damon Lindelof: Star Trek Into Darkness • World War Z
George Clooney: Gravity • The Monuments Men • The Descendants | Hugh Laurie: 101 Dalmatians (1996)
Now in Theaters: Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Reviewed May 22, 2015.

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