Movies: Tomorrowland

Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy
Directed By: Brad Bird
Written By: Damon Lindelof & Brad Bird (screenplay), story by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird & Jeff Jensen
Walt Disney, 2015
PG; 130 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


Decided to avoid the Jurassic crowds and hit up this one instead.

There's a lot going on in this movie, and it's both mildly entertaining and a tad heavy handed. But if you're worried about how scary it is for kids, my 9-, 6- and 5-year-olds were all fine with it.

If you've seen the trailers, you know the story: There's a Tomorrowland, a utopian future. Except not really because [spoiler alert] the pin she touches in the trailer is just an advertisement for something that never got built.

"She," btw, is Casey Newton (cuz of course she needs a science genius last name). Her dad is a NASA engineer about to be out of a job as they finish dismantling the Shuttle launchpad in Cape Canaveral. But Casey then gets tapped by Athena (an engaging Raffey Cassidy), who sneaks the pin into Casey's personal affects prior to Casey getting arrested for messing with the NASA site.

One assumes that part of the reason this movie was made was because Disney's Tomorrowland is outdated and has no real purpose any more except to house the semi-futuristic Buzz Lightyear stuff. Now there's a new movie which will surely lead to new rides and/or tie-ins at the park. Though, considering the film has underperformed, maybe not.

Still, given the various ride-like moments in the movie, one guesses that "rides" were on the minds of the writers and filmmakers.

Also on their minds: messages about optimism and being proactive in changing the world.

Okay, so Athena chooses Casey because of Casey's optimism and belief that even one person, one simple action, can change the future. (Butterfly effect with a rainbow highlight.) Some fifty years ago, Athena had chosen a young Frank Walker for the same reason, but he failed miserably and became jaded then was kicked out of Tomorrowland (which exists in another dimension) and back into the real world. Still, Frank is able to monitor Tomorrowland's "feed" and has a countdown clock to the end of the world.

Yeah, it's kind of muddy in the middle there, but the general point is: The world is going to hell in a handbasket and we're all kind of fine with it. We need more people like Casey, people with faith and vision. These are the people who can and will save the world. It's not about fighting the future so much as it is about fixing it, starting with the here and now.

But that's just the beginning. Tomorrowland is nothing if not layered with messages. 1. Save the world by doing something now, today! Don't just sit there! You CAN make a difference! And you should! Climate change is real! We have obesity here and starvation there—fix it!

2. Don't let the media get you down.

This one comes from the fact that Governor Nix (Laurie) of the massively underpopulated Tomorrowland has been broadcasting the forthcoming apocalypse. The intent was to galvanize the people of the world into action, but instead they [we] have done pretty much nothing. In the face of so much bad news—ice caps melting, floods and earthquakes and wars and famines—we've become at best paralyzed and at worst we're media junkies who'd rather watch crap reality television and read celebrity tabloids. Nix argues that, if the world knew Tomorrowland existed, they would only bring all their "savageness" with them and it would fail to be the utopia they'd planned anyway. Better to leave the place empty and let the people of the world deal with the consequences of their behavior.

Frank and Casey argue that turning off the monitor—the thing broadcasting the hopelessness—will enable people to look at the bright side again. People would act out of hope and faith and . . . Well, whatever. But it basically reads as an argument against 24-hour news channels that focus on disasters and bad news.

It's not an altogether wrongheaded argument either. Psychologists show that people who focus on the positive (i.e., who write down at least three good things that happened to them each day) grow to be happier and more optimistic over time. They train their brains to see the bright side. But that's hard to do when we're inundated with bad news all the time.

3. We've lied to Generation Y/Millennials

Casey gets really angry at one point and complains that she was promised this great future and it never happened. It's the cry of a generation, actually (go and read Generation Me for details). She also gets mad when Frank and Athena keep calling her "special." Again, something that entire generation has been told only to wake up and realize (one of Brad Bird's favorite themes): If everyone is special, no one is.

What's a little disturbing is that the endgame of the film is to send out recruiters to find "special" people. Casey and Frank take over Tomorrowland and use their power to cherry pick the right people to populate it. Unlike Hitler, it isn't about looks or breeding, but the whole selection thing still made me a tad uncomfortable. (I'm sure I'm overthinking it.)

At least Casey finally realizes that the future is hers to make. No one is going to give it to her; she has to create the future she wants.

Generation Me also talks about how Millennials aren't invested or involved; they are jaded. They don't vote and don't believe they can affect change. Tomorrowland seems to be set up to directly refute that belief. Too bad, then, that so few of these kids are going to see the movie. Their disenchanted attitude actively prevents them from seeing something so hopeful, meaning they really are stuck in a negative feedback loop, the very self-fulfilling prophecy Casey and Frank try to break. 

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