By Steve Stebbing
For the most part, Brad Bird is a director whose work I have thoroughly enjoyed. His animated works (Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) are all stellar films and his first foray into live action, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was just the great jump start that series needed. So, when his next project was announced I was very much on board.
The cast started coming together, first George Clooney as the lead, then Britt Robertson, then Hugh Laurie. Hey, this is shaping up to be great and it’s filmed right in our own backyard, here in Vancouver.
I finally got my chance to check out the film and I would love to tell you that it lived up to or even exceeded my expectations, that Brad Bird delivered another knock out hit. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
The film starts with young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), an imaginative inventor who is bringing the prototype of his jet pack to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. He meets David Nix (Hugh Laurie), an official looking for the next brilliant mind, but Frank is unable to impress Nix with his unproven device, although the young girl with Nix is very drawn to Frank. She gives him a pin with a T on it and tells him to sneak onto the “It’s A Small World” ride. Frank obliges and is transported to another world, Tomorrowland, a highly technologically advanced city.
The film then shifts it’s focus to our other main character Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a gifted teenager, who frequently breaks into the nearby decommissioned Cape Canaveral where her father, a NASA engineer, is working. She sabotages the machines used for dismantling the facility in hopes of saving her father’s job. On one of her late night excursions to the site she is arrested and when receiving her belongings she discovers the same T pin we saw Frank with in the beginning.
Upon touching the pin Casey receives a vision of Tomorrowland, which she explores until the battery on the pin runs out. With the help of her brother, she locates a store in Houston that sold a similar pin and leaves to investigate. At this store she is questioned by the store owners who turn out to be something not human. The same little girl who befriended young Frank in 1964 saves Casey and tells her she must go find Frank and go to Tomorrowland to save the world.
Whew! That’s along winded explanation to set up the gist of the movie. The smartest thing Disney did with the promotion of this movie was how ambiguous the trailers were. The story seemed to be kept very close to the chest, which may have been a ploy to draw viewers in. It’s too bad that the film is suffering heavily from some serious problematic issues.
Firstly, I found anything in this movie completely unconnectable to me. Sure, the film is absolutely gorgeous but the story seems completely blasé, as does Clooney (joining us as grown up Frank Walker), who doesn’t seem like he’s having even a little bit of fun. Britt Robertson is relatively good, almost a Jennifer Lawrence clone, but there’s no reason for the audience to root for either of these characters, other than the curiosity to see where this story is going, a feeling that wanes quickly.
The other issues is that there is no real central villain to this film, except for Hugh Laurie’s Nix, but even he seems to be acting on his own noble beliefs of preserving his world. This leads to the complete preachiness of the third act which has our “bad guy” admonishing the human race and most likely the audience for loving apocalyptic imagery, games, comics and movies. Is Disney, Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof shaking their fingers at us for enjoying Mad Max: Fury Road the week before? Are they frustrated about casting Britt Robertson instead of Jennifer Lawrence? Am I reading to far into this?
After the horribly sappy ending, I was left a little cold from the whole ordeal. It all felt generic and lacking in humanity, although it did show off how much Disney can put into their special effects. Maybe it will encourage the audience to come check out their own Tomorrowland. That visit might be much more interesting than the two hours plus I put into watching that film. I give this film a lackluster two out of five.