By: Susan Howse
Tomorrowland is not going to make very much money during its run at the box office. It lacks the explosive draw of super hero films, the cuteness factor of animation, and any sort of tween heartthrobs. It’s a movie for those weird kids, the dreamers, and children of Sci-Fi geeks (or basically any parent who loved The Iron Giant). Coming in at 49 percent at the critical aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, it seems that my favourable viewing of Brad Bird’s new film is in a definite minority.
In place of all those stereotypical box office draws, you have a wholesome, optimistic children’s film. Its unique world is not a sequel or an adaptation. Sure, the name comes from a Disney World ride, but other than that it’s all writer Damon Lindelof and director Brad Bird‘s imagination. It was refreshing to see a movie where you didn’t really know what you would see next. The CGI of Tomorrowland is beautiful and exactly how I believe the “future” would be like as a child. Hovercrafts, jetpacks, pristine environments and futuristic space outfits dominate the scenes. Plus, the nods to NASA just made this space geek a little excited.
The casting choices are excellent. George Clooney plays his jaded old man character with great gusto. His transformation back to the dreamer he was as a child was touching. Hugh Laurie and Raffey Cassidy do an excellent job as Tomorrowland inhabitants. However, it is the main female lead who steals the show. In a world where female heroines are often portrayed as moody, fearless, and/or a little bit sexy (I’m looking at you Katniss and Tris), it was nice to see a female heroine with a wholly optimistic outlook and presentation. Britt Robertson‘s Casey Newton is still witty, but gone are those sarcastic scowls. She trades tight clothing and bird tattoos for a worn NASA baseball cap and muddy blue jeans. She’s not afraid to get dirty. “She’s got guts, you can say that much,” Clooney’s Frank quips. She’s a bit of rebel, but all in the name of science and family. It’s still very “Disney” but it’s surprisingly fresh.
There are flaws in this film. The biggest one and the one that all the critics are hounding is the story structure. The pacing is slow at points which left me wondering if it would hold the attention of the childhood demographic it’s intended for. The story telling is also a bit muddled — sometimes they should have added more explanation and other times they should have just cut to the chase. I would have loved more exploration of the inventions of Tomorrowland — after getting a peak of them at the scene in Frank’s home. The bad robots are a little cheesy and reminded me too much of a cross between the smiling aliens in Galaxy Quest and a T-1000 from Terminator 2.
The strongest aspect of Tomorrowland is its message. It’s preachy, but idealistic and impressionable. If you can dream it, you can achieve it runs rampant through the film, but reaches a stronger impact than just realizing one’s own goals. If you want to change the world, you can and you have to. It doesn’t tell us how, but why. Much like how Fern Gully inspired a generation of children to recycle and help protect rainforests, Tomorrowland pushes for active responsibility from the viewer. Yes, the cynical adult critics are going to lament it for being too preachy. They’ve already all seen An Inconvenient Truth and already know how crappy the world has become. Children may not have that same mindset while watching this film. Perhaps this will help inspire them to create new inventions or become scientists and engineers. Maybe the takeaway will be that if we become a little more positive, we can make a difference. This is the kind of message I want children to live by and the kind of film I would show a bunch of elementary school students before getting involved in an awesome community service project or STEM activity. On a side note: It also would have been an amazing video game for kids to play.
Tomorrowland isn’t the best film. However, a lot of films have bombed at the box office and with critic reviews, only to turn it around in home viewership. While it may not reach the turned-it-around status of It’s a Wonderful Life or the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, if you give it some time and love, perhaps it just might be that cherished cult classic you’ll be showing your grandkids.