No tomorrow 

Disney's latest appeals to simplistic ideals

The kind of people who will be able to enjoy Disney's latest live-action, sci-fi adventure, Tomorrowland, include children who have not yet figured out that there's a difference between good and bad movies, dogs that like TV and, perhaps, a few very sentimental adults. For those who prefer character development and cohesive storytelling, you may do better to watch some old episodes of "Stargate" or "Sliders."

Brad Bird directs and co-writes the picture. His past accomplishments include animated films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, as well as the live-action Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol—which is just to say, we appear to be in good hands.

Tomorrowland begins with a flashback to 1964, when a little tyke named Frank Walker (who will later be played by an all-grown-up George Clooney) stumbles onto the "It's A Small World" ride during its premiere at the World's Fair. A little girl who may or may not be a robot gives young Frank a magical pin that, once activated, catapults him into an interdimensional world known as Tomorrowland, a place that looks a lot like a three-dimensional, retro sci-fi version of Chutes and Ladders.

Back in the present, we've got Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), the precocious little troublemaker who acquires the same magic pin that Clooney had earlier, and she too gets catapulted to Tomorrowland at random and inconvenient times.

The two of them join up and there's a task to be solved, the particulars of which I'll let you unwind yourselves. I feel as though recommending this movie is the same as handing you a big pile of cords and asking you to untangle them for me. You may even be able to untie the knot, but less apparent is why you're doing it in the first place.

click to enlarge “Looks like it’s going to be a great CGI day.”
  • “Looks like it’s going to be a great CGI day.”

A lot of people have made a big deal of pointing out that Tomorrowland isn't a reboot or sequel, as though that in and of itself speaks to merit. Sadly, I guess it does. But am I the only one on the planet who thinks that making an entire movie based on a plotless theme park ride is also a dumb and unoriginal thing? They made, like, 15 Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and they can't all be bad, but does the attraction really have much bearing on the plot? Or is the comparison as witless as "The ride has pirates and so do these movies"?

More than anything, I'm offended by the simplistic and heavy-handed moral at the end of Tomorrowland: Namely, that it's a lack of imagination and dreaming that ruins the world. That's not a message I think we should be particularly eager to teach our children, as it lets a lot of powerful, malevolent economic and political forces off the hook. Call me old fashioned, but I don't think we should teach kids that if they just believed in Tinkerbell more, the polar ice caps wouldn't melt.

I'm not kidding when I say that young kids might really like this movie. Tomorrowland moves fast and drops Robertson's character into so many situations that she has no real emotional consistency, but she's a young, plucky hero that I think a lot of young ladies will want to get behind anyway. The grown-ups keep telling her she has special attributes that will prove indispensable in saving the world, and that's at least a positive thing to identify with and latch onto. Also, many humans turn out to be robots, and I know as a kid I was obsessed with the idea that ordinary men and women in our midst might really be machines. And some of Tomorrowland's robots get beaten so savagely that I can almost close my eyes and imagine the picture has some real blood and guts with which to contend.

Tomorrowland continues at the Carmike 12.

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