I will fully admit that I went to this film primarily because of Brad Bird. I have consciously followed his work since The Iron Giant entranced me. Even his most recently passed film, and first live action feature, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol was fun and revitalized that failing franchise. Enter Tomorrowland… it isn’t his best, but despite its imperfections, it is very much of his world.
On the up side, Tomorrowland is visually stunning and full of inside geek jokes: visual, script, and musical. In fact, the first half is so packed with them it was distracting for me. It has action, adventure, and is, in a sea of dystopic futures on page and screen, an infectiously optimistic film. The ideas are wonderful. And the acting engaging.
Robertson (Cake) is a solid and competent force in the film and able to hold her own with Clooney (The Monuments Men). Clooney, himself, fills the shoes he needs to, though I would have loved to have seen a bit more range. Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman) delivers in a difficult role, though the choices she was allowed to make rather telegraphed everything about her, but that was as much a script problem as an acting one.
In supporting roles, Laurie (The Oranges), Gagnon (Looper), and Robinson (The Switch) all add to the story in great ways, though Laurie, by far, gets to have the most fun with it all. In bit roles Hahn (This is Where I Leave You), Key (Key and Peele), and MacCaull (iZombie) bring their own, somewhat exaggerated, fun.
What is sad is that Tomorrowland should have been this year’s Frozen for young girls and women. It has strong female leads, but the script was utterly botched and it isn’t their story. It is Clooney’s, despite it being the young girl telling it. Honestly, I blame co-writer Lindelof for these gaffs, though the buck stops with Bird as director. The script is klunky structurally. The surprises are all telegraphed, the exposition overly speechified, the focus fuzzy.
Though it is still effective as a film, it all goes wrong from the very beginning; they simply didn’t know where to start the story. They tried to capitalize on that with their beginning and end framing, but it doesn’t work. The film has a stuttering start and then a confused progression, often glossing over moments that should have impact. The subject matter is rather, frankly, adult but it is neither delivered entirely with kids in mind, nor with enough emotional oomph for adults. For a movie about wonder, it feels rather hollow.
This needed to be more like Close Encounters in feel and execution if this was intended more as a family film. But there was no trust that the audience would go along for the ride. It feels like the story was pulled apart and reordered to meet a need that didn’t exist and, in doing so, weakened the whole thing overall. It might have worked better just aimed at adults, but it is clear that adults are considered a large part of the problem the film hopes to solve.
In the end, there is enough to satisfy in this film. It is not the blockbuster I’d hoped, but it is far from a failure. And, in fact, it may even excite a few viewers to feed the right wolf themselves. The story certainly makes that feel easy and tempting.