Disney hit upon something of a golden goose in 2003 when they released Pirates of Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl: a guyliner-heavy, swashbuckling blockbuster based on one of Disneyland’s most popular attractions. Taking inspiration from a theme park ride and making it run as one of cinema’s most financially-lucrative franchises was, in all honesty, no mean feat. Here was a company mining its very hardware for inspiration and, if we turn a blind eye to The Haunted Mansion, doing a decent enough job at it.
Disney has revisited the well-trodden grounds of “the happiest place on earth” for their latest spectacle, conceptualising to the nth degree by taking vague inspiration, not from a single ride, but from an entire wing of their theme park. In Brad Bird’s film and screenwriter Damien Lindelof’s world, Tomorrowland represents the physical manifestation of man’s unfettered, vaulting technological ambition: a futuristic playground of polished chrome hover-buses and tight-fitting faux-leather jumpsuits. In real life, it’s also the home of Space Mountain, which is tremendous fun.
Like a more optimistic version of The Crystal Maze’s futuristic zone, it’s to this glistening world that wee genius Frank (portrayed by George Clooney and Thomas Robinson) finds himself transported by enigmatic young girl Athena (Raffey Cassidy) having unsuccessfully pitched his jet pack invention at the 1964 World’s Fair. For Frank is a young man with unbound optimism who dreams in terms of flying cars and holograms and the futuristic brilliance of the utopian Tomorrowland suits him down to the ground. When, in the present day, Casey Newton (Britt Roberston) also finds herself mysteriously and briefly transported there, she too is awed by Tomorrowland and hunts down the older Frank to learn more about its glistening, wipe-clean brilliance.
Apart from telling you that they find themselves quickly being pursued by maniacal robots, it’s a bit difficult to divulge any further plot specifics about the film. Partly because Tomorrowland deliberately leaves its titular destination difficult to know (is it another dimension, or perhaps Earth’s future?) and partly because the film seems to get bogged down in its own philosophical and environmental arguments without really getting anywhere.
Despite one hair-raising home invasion scene (rather like a very child-friendly reimagining of Straw Dogs), Bird seems to content to clip his audience round the ear with a textbook and admonish them all for not doing more to help save the planet. That Tomorrowland has a strong pro-environment message is by no means a problem, and it follows in the footsteps of other laudable green-fingered pieces of sci-fi such as Silent Running and Wall-E. What’s disappointing is that Tomorrowland marries this sentiment with a robustly pro-discovery, pro-innovation message without ever being particularly new or exciting itself.
The realisation of Tomorrowland as a hub of gleaming spires, inhabited by flying shuttle-buses and smiling citizens whizzing around all looks a bit stock, a bit standard. You never really get the sense that this film, which so strongly espouses invention, is doing anything particularly inventive itself. It’s by no means dull, but it’s certainly prosaic; and as it climaxes with a worm-hole spanning fist fight, you really do start to feel like you’ve seen much of this done before.
A robustly environmentally-conscious film with a lot to say on the subject of innovation, it’s a bit of a shame Tomorrowland couldn’t take a bit more of its own advice.
Genre: Mystery, Adventure | Distributor:Disney Pictures | Release Date: 22nd May 2015 (UK) | Rating: 12a | Director: Brad Bird | Cast:George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw