Disney’s latest movie, Tomorrowland, was one that I had some trepidation as I was preparing to see it. So far, the Disney company has released a movie based on the Haunted Mansion (which looked like it took more from the Orlando based attraction rather than the one in Anaheim), as well as a franchise of films inspired by Pirates Of The Caribbean (although the first movie did more to pay homage to the ride than any of the sequels). It is with this that I puzzled, how could the Disney Studios create a movie, not based on a singular ride or attraction, but rather an entire “land” from their theme parks? The answer was surprisingly simple. They started at the beginning, by referring to a man named Walt Disney.
Starting in 1964 we find ourselves alongside a youngster named Frank Walker (played by the adventurously likeable Thomas Robinson) making his way to the Hall Of Inventions where he is going to show off an intricately put together jetpack. It doesn’t quite work as he had hoped, but young Frank shows optimism and hope as to what his invention could ultimately bring about. The man he is trying to impress, David Nix (played by Hugh Laurie), is sadly, not impressed. It is here that we meet a mysterious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who gives young Frank a pin, which he promptly puts on his jacket, and we then follow Frank as he takes an unexpected trip to a place called Tomorrowland.
Years later we meet an equally optimistic, but slightly misguided, young high school girl named Casey (Britt Robertson). Not only is she optimistic in her outlook on life, but also smart. She’s VERY smart. However this comes as no surprise as we learn that her father is a NASA engineer (played by Tim McGraw). After an adventure to save her father’s job goes badly, she comes into possession of the same type of pin that young Frank had earlier in the movie. When she touches it she is immediately given a glimpse of a world that excites her in ways that she never believed possible. However, when that glimpse is taken away from her she goes on a mission to get some answers, which leads her Frank Walker (played by a gruff George Clooney), now an adult, but very bitter and equally pessimistic as Casey is optimistic. It is here that the movie starts to lose its message.
What we are being told, first through the eyes of young Frank, and then later through Casey, is how optimism and hope can help to change the world for the better, and that if we can inspire one another, that the positive change will ripple outwards, continuing to inspire others along the way. It is that very optimism in both Frank and Casey that allows us to see Tomorrowland as they initially do. I must admit, when Casey finally gets her first detailed glimpse of that place, via the pin she acquires, I found myself right along side her, feeling the same excitement and joy that this Utopian society was presenting. This is the future that I’ve dreamt of all my life, and I daresay this is the future that Walt Disney himself believed was possible. The very idea that we can shape the future with our ideas, that thought is the basis of all reality, actually excited me as I was watching this movie. However, once we meet up with adult Frank the movie became less about the message, and more about being a simple adventure flick. Mind you, some of the adventure was entertaining, but confusing as well. We learn that Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison were the founders of a scientific think group called Plus Ultra, and that they were responsible for finding this alternate universe where they could build the Utopian society, free from governments and corporations, all for the benefit of mankind. That is the Tomorrowland that both Frank and Casey saw, and compliments of a rocket ship underneath the Eiffel Tower, our heroes are headed there. The confusion lies in, how do four scientists from the late 19th Century build an underground facility that can house a rocket? How is that Frank came into possession of a special Edison Tube, which makes entry into the rocket possible? While it can be assumed that Frank learned of these things while in Tomorrowland as a child, it is never adequately explained. We also find that Tomorrowland, once we actually get to the real place, isn’t quite what Casey and Frank saw. It’s mostly deserted now and actually looks more dystopian than utopian, and we are never told as to why. After we are reunited with David Nix the movie is all about “we must destroy this thing in order to save the world” plot. This hearkens back to the misguided adventures that Casey was involved in when we first meet her. She’s sabotaging the mechanical equipment at the NASA launch area in Canaveral all in an attempt to save her father’s job (once the launch pad is dismantled her father is out of a job). When her father first learns of this he rightly scolds her. What she did was wrong, regardless of any good intentions she may have had. Now, in Tomorrowland, Casey, Frank, and Athena (who has returned to help both Casey and Frank save the world), must resort to what Casey was initially admonished against doing, and that is sabotaging machinery to save the world. We are now given a mixed message, and that takes away from what this movie is trying to say. Instead of using our minds and ideas to construct a better world, all this movie does is reduce itself into a cliché “blow ‘em up” story, and that left me feeling rather empty.
The movie does end on a positive, albeit somewhat cheesy, note. After Frank and Casey save the day, they send out more emissaries with the same type of pins that our heroes had, all in an effort to find those dreamers and visionaries who can help to create a better tomorrow. Sadly, to get the movie back on this type of track after being derailed took too much energy and effort on the part of writers Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness) and Brad Bird (Iron Giant, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: – Ghost Protocol). There are a lot of great ideas, but somewhere along the line these ideas failed to fully deliver. That’s what makes the movie feel slightly hollow. Nonetheless, the initial message, dreamers, visionaries, and optimists can pave the way for a bright future, is a message I fully embrace. I’m weary of the stories of an apocalypse that says we are a doomed species. I run away from news stories that only speak to the negative aspects of who we are as a people. I love the idea that we can overcome, that we can change, that we can choose to be better. It’s a message that, by the time the closing credits began to roll, left tears in my eyes.
As the movie says, we could surrender ourselves to the supposedly inevitable annihilation that awaits us all, or we can choose otherwise. As for me, I’ll continue to dream, hope, and in whatever way I know how, help to create the better tomorrow.