Bobby Kennedy was very fond of paraphrasing the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and stated on numerous occasions that “some men see things as they are and say ‘why’, I dream things that never were and say ‘why not?’”.
It’s a sentiment rich in existentialism and also a description of what it is to dream and aspire towards something better. In addition to both of these things - and in relation to Tomorrowland: A World Beyond - it is the very embodiment of what the visionary Walt Disney stood for.
Known affectionately as ‘Uncle Walt’ it is sometimes forgotten just how ahead of his time the creator of the modern Disney corporation actually was - his movie output was ground-breaking but he also allied this with a savvy business brain and an ability to see his visions through to fruition in creating what has become an almost empirical theme park conglomerate that now has a presence in most corners of the globe.
‘Disneyland’ is sold to us as a place of fun, of adventure, of vibrant colours - a utopia where people can go to feel wonder and amazement and, most importantly of all, to live out their dreams.
This is a premise that seems to have seeped into the making of Tomorrowland - itself sharing a name with the somewhat mysterious, futuristic theme park first constructed by Disney in California in the 1950s - because with what is a well-meaning, family adventure that harks back to the somewhat sentimental film-making of Spielbergs 80’s back catalogue, what we have here, at it’s simplest, is a movie that encourages the dreamer within us all.
Britt Robertson follows-up her breakout performance in The Longest Ride with the role of Casey Newton, an inquisitive, scientific teenager who’s discovery of a magic pin-badge leads her on a fantastical journey that incorporates all kinds of ingenious creations and inventions and ultimately to George Clooney’s ex child-inventor Frank Walker.
Linked with shared images and visions of the mysterious Tomorrowland - a place that Clooney was once an inhabitant of - the odd-couple must try to stop the impending destruction of earth by attempting to unlock the secrets of this strange, extra-dimensional place.
Much of your enjoyment of Tomorrowland will be depend upon whether or not you find all things Disney endearing and wondrous or simply irritating and overly-sentimental. Whilst this is a film based around the concepts of dreams and visions, and how those dreams can be used to create a nirvana that has so far eluded modern society it does rely heavily on the audience sharing that vision, so unless you are a child or an adult peter-pan type who never really wanted to grow up and still longs to be the space-ranger or adventurer you yearned to be as a child then this will probably not be for you.
Fortunately though, for those who do still like to day-dream and disappear into fantasy worlds whenever our mundane 9-5 lives become a little too serious, then Tomorrowlandwill be a welcome 2 hours of escapism that will give you everything you want - this is a movie that encourages you to let your imagination run wild and to revert back to your formative years where the world offered infinite possibilities and hopes were yet to be dashed by the reality of life. As Hugh Laurie’s futuristic patriarch succinctly describes the human race “In every moment there is the possibility of a better future but you people won’t believe it”.
There is more than a hint of the great Spielberg movies of the past here - ET, Hook, AIand his producing influence on Back to the Future in particular - and maybe if this had been made 15 years ago then he himself would of found himself in charge of proceedings. However, it is Brad Bird who settles into the directors chair – a smart choice given his history. With Pixar releases The Incredibles and Ratatouille under his belt Bird has first hand-experience of working with a company who’s very ethos has been about creating the dreams of its talented and creative employees, Bird was a sensible choice who more than demonstrates he understands the Disney way of doing things and doesn’t allow any let up on the sentimentality or entertainment factors.
Tomorrowland contains some crisp CGI which will astound in places - although there are elements that will suspend belief but then again we are back to the type of audience who will appreciate this kind of fare. The day-dreamers will lap it up whilst the more rational spectator will be quickly disillusioned.
Vibrant colours are a frequent inclusion and the cinematography in particular is extremely impressive. Bird also displays his eye for a good action set-piece and there is certainly no lack of adventure here, if nothing else this is a nice, family adventure that will more than pass the time.
One stand-out sequence for the ‘fan-boys’ amongst us will be the inclusion of the “blast from the past” memorabilia shop, a collection of some of the wackiest and most recognisable space merchandise you can imagine. From Spock to R2 it’s all here in a nod to the cinematic representations of space and the future that have all come before. Another positive that can be honed from proceedings is the relationship between Clooney and Robertson who both display an excellent comedic chemistry that grounds the movie at times and allows us to relate to this forced father/daughter/friends/collaborator dynamic. Both actors emerge with great credit here and Robertson in particular will have no-doubt enhanced her fledgling CV with an impressive performance that should garner praise and attention in equal measure.
It isn’t all sunshine and roses however, and the one big criticism of Tomorrowland is perhaps the unavoidable problem that as soon as the mysteries of the futuristic locality are cleared up then there isn’t a whole lot left to entertain, the plot is somewhat flimsy and there is a lack of truly thrilling action all of which lead to what is a quite poor final third. Added to the fact that a lot relies on the ability of the audience to relate to the central motif of dreams, then - depending on your disposition - this could either make-or-break the film for you. This is overly romanticised and schmaltzy without question so you will probably be able to decide here and now if this is your type of fare.
Special dispensation should be made however with the knowledge that this type of sanguine film-making has been the staple of Disney since the release of Snow White in 1937 and it is a tried and tested formula that has served them well but it is none the less not to everyone’s tastes.
For a movie dealing primarily with the future there are still enough old-school film-making values on display and I’m sure Uncle Walt would be more than happy with the family entertainment that is on offer. This is a good effort that falls just short of being great when you remove the main enigma of the world in which it is set.
Aside from the sentimentality and sugary ideals there is a deeper, philosophical message underlying Tomorrowland that will probably not be appreciated by the main target audience as attentions divert instead to the rocket packs and rich colours of the futuristic dreamscape. To really acknowledge the central premise and understand the themic content of Tomorrowland depends entirely on your propensity to dream and hope - something Walt Disney seemed to be able to do without parallel but unfortuanately seem to be traits not really associated with the modern world.
It is a great shame that throughout the history of the human race many of these ‘dreamers’ have often been seen as aloof and were mocked for their flights of fancy - how many times were we told to “get our head out of the clouds” as youngsters? - yet many of the greatest dreamers that have existed amongst our species have gone on to achieve or create wonderous things. As Tomorrowland explains to us in it’s most enduring line “dreamers must stick together” - and depending on whether or not you are one of them will hugely influence your enjoyment of this film.