Friday, May 22, 2015

Playing Today: “Tomorrowland”

Movie Review by Jack Silbert
If a family trip to Tomorrowland at Disney World or Disneyland isn’t in the cards this Memorial Day weekend, will a visit to Tomorrowland at the multiplex suffice? Well, there is a lot of good stuff in it, but some not-so-good stuff too. I suppose in the end, it will depend on how much your kids appreciate a convoluted storyline.

The film is certainly trying hard (cynically so?) to appeal to the entire family. It’s rated PG, and features two pre-teen characters, one rebellious teen, and—so you parents stay interested—several recognizable adults (George Clooney, country superstar Tim McGraw, the guy from House, etc.).

George Clooney as Frank Walker
As for that title: Perhaps due to the success of Saving Mr. Banks, the Walt Disney Company once again pillages its own history to produce a slightly more grown-up film. Early on, we’re at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, where there actually was an “It’s a Small World” pavilion. In that setting, we meet young Frank, the kid version of Clooney’s character. He’s a bright-eyed kid inventor. Young British Athena (a terrific Raffey Cassidy) notices Frank’s spark and lures him to Tomorrowland, a magical place where goodhearted dreamers focus on the future.

This whole segment was feeling a little too “Disney” for me—just too clean-scrubbed and smiley, and very obviously filmed on a sound stage, etc. The kid playing Frank bears a decent resemblance to Clooney but unfortunately isn’t a very compelling actor. And the special effects and sets in the early going aren’t particularly impressive. (For Disney buffs, there are some aesthetic similarities to the theme-park version of Tomorrowland, and I think I spotted a Monorail.)

But then the movie switches gears to the modern era, and we meet teenage Casey (winningly portrayed by Britt Robertson). Poor Tim McGraw, as her dad, has to sport a very regrettable mustache/hairline combo. Plucky ageless Athena witnesses Casey’s potential too, and whisks her off to Tomorrowland, if only temporarily.

Britt Robertson as Casey Newton 
This is where the movie really picks up. Casey tracks down grown-up Frank (the dependably good Clooney) to try to return to Tomorrowland and… I don’t know… save the world or something. Ah, but evil-yet-amusing Men-in-Black-style robot guys are trying to stop them. The action is very entertaining, and some of the three-people-on-a-road-trip exchanges between Athena, Casey, and curmudgeonly Frank are quite funny.

Too bad that when they do get back to the future, the movie slows way down (which is not advisable in a 130-minute-long children’s film) and then gets incredibly confusing. Because… the world is ending? Or only seems like it’s ending? And they can fix it… how? My head was spinning. Oh, the script was co-written by Damon Lindelof, the executive producer of Lost, one of TV’s most baffling shows ever? What a terrible, terrible idea! The one dependable thing about family movies is their straightforward plots. Not this time, friends.

The 1964-65 New York World's Fair as
presented in
They do deliver the kid-friendly notion that the world is in trouble (climate change, wars, etc.), and we must take genuine action to change that. And that it’s good to be a dreamer, blah-blah-blah. But we also get the very mature concept of contemplating exactly when you’re going to die. (Was this also co-written by an actuary?) And there’s this weird love-connection vibe between Frank and eternally young Athena, which is totally OK when they’re both kids, but a little bit off when he’s 54-year-old George Clooney. Nothing inappropriate happens; it’s just a little… weird.

Hey, maybe your kids will have better luck figuring out Tomorrowland than I did. Just like Whitney, I believe the children are our future.

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