**** (out of 5)
May 22, 2015
George Clooney as FRANK WALKER
Hugh Laurie as NIX
Britt Robertson as CASEY NEWTON
Raffey Cassidy as ATHENA
Directed by: Brad Bird
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Like many of the directors that have made a popular splash at Pixar, Brad Bird has earned almost universal acclaim for his movies. Even before his Pixar days, he directed “The Iron Giant,” which is a charming and beautiful animated film that never got the popular love it deserved. (This may have been due to it releasing at a time when cell animation was a dying art and computer animation was taking over.)
After making another big splash with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” Bird returned to live-action filmmaking for the Disney film “Tomorrowland.” The movie has been met with mixed reviews and some scathing comments by my fellow critics. Though I have a feeling this is a case where the negative feelings for the movie stem from people expecting something that wasn’t delivered.
The current batch of critics – particularly online critics as opposed to more art-house minded print critics of the past – have a distinct love for superheroes, action, adventure and gritty filmmaking that pushes the limits of the popular PG-13 rating. If that’s what you’re hoping for with “Tomorrowland,” you’re gonna be sorely disappointed.
“Tomorrowland” is, in essence, a kids’ movie. This statements bears notice because this film is not such an obvious family film as the animated movies of Bird’s past. After all, even if there are plenty of adult themes in the movie (like we saw in “The Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles”), we have been conditioned as a culture to equate animation with children’s cinema.
“Tomorrowland” isn’t gritty. “Tomorrowland” isn’t edgy. “Tomorrowland” isn’t a dark chapter in a character’s story arc. In fact, “Tomorrowland” has its feet planted squarely in the optimistic sense of wonder that Walt Disney himself believed in. And that’s okay. Not everything needs to show the unpleasant underbelly of humanity. Sometimes the world just needs something that makes people feel good.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll keep the premise of the movie extra brief. “Tomorrowland” is a story about a girl who is approached by a mysterious person who introduces her to a world that exists outside of our own. She’s invited there to help the greatest minds in history to help bring the world back from the brink of destruction.
Yeah, George Clooney is also in the movie, but he actually plays a pretty secondary role. In fact, the movie really belongs to Britt Robertson, who is the key to making the future a reality. Still, Clooney works in the movie as himself, and he has decent chemistry with Robertson (though not as much as she does with Raffey Cassidy, who plays Athena, the futuristic girl trying to recruit her). This is where the film shines in terms of character interaction.
It took Bird some time to really win me over with “Tomorrowland,” but when he did, I was all in. The film can be a bit jarring because it’s not based on a standard story. It’s not a rehash of a legend or a comic book that we already know in the back of our mind. Like this year’s other much maligned science fiction epic “Jupiter Ascending,” “Tomorrowland” is a unique story that takes some time to unfold. It’s not a spoon-fed pre-conceived notion, and while that may have elicited an unsettling response from some critics, it’s one of the film’s greatest strengths.
Sure, the movie gets a bit corny and silly at times. It overplays the humor between Robertson and Clooney, and there are some surprisingly violent moments that are tossed aside for a more whimsical joke. However, the bulk of the film is just good, old fashioned gee-whizardry that you’d expect from the imagineers from the Disney company.
I’m sure if Walt Disney were alive today, he would have loved this film. It’s steeped in Disney tradition and hope, which is something we need a lot more of… in the cinemas and in the world in general.