By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — “You wanna go?” Hey, if you’ve been to any or all of the Disney theme parks, you’ve already been there. And now it’s the setting for a movie.
Tomorrowland is a science fiction mystery adventure about a magical realm, the result of an ambitious and optimistic project by a secret society founded by the towering Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, and Thomas Edison at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889.
George Clooney stars as Frank Walker, a reclusive inventor and exile from the futuristic utopia that lends its name to the film’s title, who becomes the reluctant guide for a curious teenager, Casey Newton, played by Britt Robertson, who, when her dad was about to be laid off by NASA, found the portal to that distant world and, having gotten a glimpse of the magical place, understandably wants to see it again.
She happens to have a magical pin on her person that has something to do with Tomorrowland and she needs Walker to be her escort. That’s why she has shown up, unannounced, at his door.
But Walker is persona non grata in Tomorrowland and only the officially invited are welcome. Besides, can he even find it?Perhaps the secret getaway machine at the top of – where else? – the Eiffel Tower can help them unearth the secrets of the special place that exists in their collective memory.
But where is it?
And who are those otherworldly beings who seem intent on stopping the two travelers from arriving at their destination?
Which brings us to David Nix, played by Hugh Laurie, an ex-colleague of Walker’s who more or less runs the alternate universe that is Tomorrowland while looking down on humanity’s accepted universe.
Writer/director Brad Bird has come from the animation realm, where he directed Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant, and then the gifted visual stylist made a remarkably smooth transition into live action in 2011 by delivering the amazing Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, that franchise’s best outing by far.
His latest, rated PG and aimed at the family audience, offers beautifully realized visual effects that help to distract us from many questions that might otherwise occur about the intriguing but elusive narrative. That is, the visual splendor masks the storytelling limitations.
The screenplay by Bird and Damon Lindelof, from a story by Bird, Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, takes its inspiration from Walt Disney’s Epcot Center, his futuristic vision of a way that technology and science – and human imagination — could help to transform and improve human lives. It’s ultimately about the Tomorrowland inside each of us.
But the script, which from the opening segment on sports a vagueness – existing “somewhere in time and space,” that sort of thing — that never quite comes into clear, audience-friendly focus, also lightly explores that slippery slope on which utopia suddenly starts looking like dystopia.
The working title before the film was assigned its current title – which fits nicely into the film’s hidden or not-so-hidden agenda as feature-length product placement — was 1952 and its title in the United Kingdom (as opposed to the Magic Kingdom) is Disney Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.
So we’ll invent 2 1/2 stars out of 4 for an inventive and fantastical but fuzzy and incomplete adventure drama that’s as nostalgic as it is futuristic. Tomorrowland is an ambitious, visually arresting theme park of a family movie that has opened its gates a tad before it was ready, but with rides and attractions that will sweep the kids off their feet.