Ever wonder what the future will look like and who will make it possible? Between jetpacks, hover cars, and teleportation, imagining the future is something we’ve been preoccupied with for generations. In Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, viewers are given a glimpse of what the future could be, if only humanity could let go of its negativity.
The story begins in 1964 with the introduction of boy genius Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), an inventor at heart. He boldly brings his invention, a jet pack that doesn’t quite work, to the New York’s World Fair where he presents it to David Nix (Hugh Laurie), a judge at the Inventions pavilion who isn’t terribly impressed with the unfinished project. Although he doesn’t win Nix’s approval, he does manage to catch the eye of a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who offers him a pin which gives him access to a special ride. Once inside, Frank is eventually taken to an alternate futuristic reality known as Tomorrowland.
Frank’s story abruptly comes to an end for now, so that the movie can move to the present day and introduce Casey (Britt Robertson), a teen who dreams of a better world. In fact, she’s currently sneaking out at night to sabotage construction equipment, and delay NASA’s attempts to tear down its Space Shuttle launch platform at Cape Canaveral.
After several successful attempts at postponing the destruction, she’s arrested. When she makes bail, she finds another one of those pins among her personal belongings which, when touched, transports her to a cornfield just outside Tomorrowland. Casey makes it to the city and absorbs what life is like in this futuristic location until the pin runs out of battery life and she returns to Earth. Entranced by what she’s seen, she decides to search for another pin.
After browsing online, she finds a shop which is offering another one of the pins. However, when she arrives, she’s met by a very confusing couple (Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key) who demand to know where Casey got the original pin. When she tells them she doesn’t know who gave it to her, the two get hostile. Luckily, Athena shows up (looking exactly the same age as she did in 1964) to rescue Casey from the couple, who turn out to be killer robots.
Casey quickly figures out that Athena is a robot as well. Athena explains she was designed to recruit people to come to Tomorrowland, and she gave Casey the pin because she thinks Casey may have it what it takes to save that other world, because there are hints that the people of Tomorrowland have created something very bad. She tells Casey she’s taking her to someone who will be able to get them back over there, and that person ends up being a middle-aged and bitter Frank Walker (George Clooney), who’s been banished from Tomorrowland.
Despite his disdain for Tomorrowland, he’s managed to tap into their satellite signals, which show images that reveal that Earth’s destruction is imminent. While Frank tries to explain all this to Casey, his house is attacked by robots sent from Tomorrowland.
Using all of Frank’s high-tech gizmos, they manage to defeat the robots and escape. Along with Athena, they run to one of Frank’s hideouts, where Frank uses one of his inventions to quickly transport them all to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There, he reveals that a cabal of geniuses (including Tesla and Edison) stashed a rocket below the tower when it was originally built. They climb aboard as all of Paris watches the rocket launch, and the three are soon taken into space and carried into the dimension where Tomorrowland exists.
Upon arrival, they find the place in a state of disrepair, and the remaining residents of Tomorrowland aren’t enthused to see the trio, even when they explain that Casey has the ability to help save Earth, thanks to her intelligence and hopeful outlook. Dr. Nix, now the governor of Tomorrowland (and he’s also ageless, but in his case it’s because he drinks some sort of special “shake” every day), has the group arrested and orders them deported back to Earth.
As they’re on their way to be sent home, Casey is brought inside the Monitor, a large machine that uses tachyons to display holographic images of the past and future, and it’s this machine that predicts the destruction of the Earth in just 58 days. However, Nix doesn’t care if Earth is destroyed, because he and his people will be safe here.
Eventually, Casey realizes that the Monitor is actually causing the demise of Earth by broadcasting negative thoughts into everyone’s minds. So, the three come up with a plan to blow up the machine that’s sending all that negativity to Earth, and Frank just happens to have brought along a small spherical bomb for just such an eventuality.
Dr. Nix opens up a portal to a uninhabited island, planning to force our heroes to live out their final days on a luxurious beach. They break free and Frank gets the bomb to Casey, who tries to throw it up into the Monitor, but instead it goes off just outside the portal.
Nix ends up pinned underneath debris, but refuses to go out without a fight and shoots at Frank. Athena takes the laser blast instead, and is about to shut down. It seems all Tomorrowland robots have a built-in self-destruct mechanism, so Athena says they can use her body to blow up the Monitor. Frank dons a jetpack to carry her up to the Monitor, which is destroyed in the ensuing explosion, and Earth is saved from destruction.
Casey and Frank restore Tomorrowland, where they build a group of recruitment robots just like Athena, and give them pins so they can seek out more dreamers to help make the world a better place. The final shot is of the new recruits finding themselves in a cornfield and seeing Tomorrowland for the first time.
Tomorrowland sends a bold message to the dreamers of the world. Okay, well, maybe it’s not that bold. The movie is basically saying everybody gave up on optimism about the future when the space race ended, which isn’t entirely true. There are lots of people still trying to make the world a better place, and I’m sure there are still plenty of exciting things we’ll see in our lifetimes, even if they’re not necessarily based around space exploration.
But the real problem with this film is that its storyline is all over the place, and nothing adds up. Why did Tomorrowland never live up to its promise? What happened to all the people who were living there at the start of the film? Why was Frank kicked out? And what’s with all those evil robots trying to kill the heroes? I have to assume Dr. Nix is the one who sent them, but why? If the Earth is ending in 60 days, why would he waste his time worrying about anybody over there?
Also, having two types of Tomorrowland pins that look the same but do two different things (one gives you access to the real Tomorrowland, the other just beams a realistic simulation into your brain as an advertisement) was confusing.
And the way humanity is saved really makes no sense. According to the images seen inside the Monitor, the end of the world involves floods and volcanoes and other natural and climate change-related disasters. So destroying a machine that’s beaming negative thoughts into our heads will somehow cause global warming to stop? This resolution came way out of left field, which made the whole movie feel like a waste of time.
Given Brad Bird’s track record with beloved Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, I think we can probably put most of the blame on screenwriter Damon Lindlelof, who’s shown in his scripts for things like Lost and Prometheus and Star Trek Into Darkness that he’s great at planting the seeds of a mystery, but usually blows it when it comes time for the big dramatic payoff.
All in all, Tomorrowland is a long, drawn out Disney movie that doesn’t really appeal to kids or adults. Frankly, the only thing this film has going for it is the special effects and a quick shout out to Nikola Tesla. This is the latest in a series of Disney movies inspired by attractions at their theme parks, which have been pretty hit or miss. Actually, other than the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, they’ve all been misses (anybody remember The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy? Anybody?), and this one certainly doesn’t break the streak.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]