Movie Information

The Story: An upbeat teenager and a disgruntled older man become involved in the world of Tomorrowland. The Lowdown: Yes, there are some bright spots in it, but the story is poorly constructed, the payoff is too slight, the thematic implications are between confused and alarming — and the final result little more than an empty bromide.
Genre: Fantasy Sci-Fi
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key
Rated: PG



Tomorrowland — vaguely based on the Disney theme park attraction — is a mess. Structurally, it’s a nightmare. Dramatically, it only occasionally comes to life. Technically, it’s sometimes impressive and sometimes a thing of 1930s-level matte paintings and CGI that’s so cartoonish it’s hard to remember it isn’t an animated film. Thematically, it’s such a bizarre farrago of mismatched “philosophies” and ideas that it’s hard to tell what it’s supposed to be. I’d like to call it a “noble failure,” but I’m not at all sure that it’s noble. I am sure, on the other hand, that so far as I’m concerned, it’s certainly a failure.




Put on a very simple — and even charitable — level, Tomorrowland feels like science fiction grounded in Rev. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking — minus the God stuff. The basic idea is that our own fixation with bad news, gloomy prognostications and dystopian fiction is the driving force that is taking the world to hell in your proverbial handbasket. If only we looked on the sunny side, etc. All in all, it’s not a bad notion — just a simplistic one. But what approach have director Bird and his co-writer Damon Lindelof taken to deliver this message? Why, of course, they’ve come up with a story about — wait for it — overthrowing a dystopian government/parallel universe — complete with all the trappings of the very things Tomorrowland constantly shakes an accusatory finger at us for buying into. While it lectures us about being optimistic, it’s blithely incinerating people with ray guns, blowing things up and even treating us to giant Rock-’em-Sock-’em robots.




But if we put on a happy face, all this will change. After all, the mere presence of one upbeat teenage girl (Britt Robertson, Cake) makes the prospect of our impending doom move from 100 percent certainty to a chance of a happier scenario. All that’s lacking is Shirley Temple showing up to sing “Be Optimistic.” The problem — one of them — is that what Tomorrowland offers is more bromide than anything. And when it does offer something more, that something is an unwieldy mix of Ayn Rand and populism. The whole concept of Tomorrowland is about a millimeter away from Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged — a utopia for the select few — and its recruiting program is interchangeable with John Galt’s approach. Worse — and this gets into the realm of spoilers — its final answer is to return to the same old elitist policies Tomorrowland was using in 1964 of bringing in “just the right people.” The kindest thing I can say is that the film is on the regressive side and bathed in the antiseptic worldview of Disney.




Even if you can overlook all this — and a lot of folks will just because of the movie’s “positive” message — the film is a shambles. We have to wade through an utterly pointless and annoying onscreen narration (gotta get Clooney up there right away) and two protracted backstories to get to the actual plot. The film does improve once it clears away the setup, but the tone remains inconsistent. Enjoyable bickering between Clooney’s disillusioned dreamer and his perpetually 14-year-old former mentor (Raffey Cassidy, Dark Shadows) sits right next to clunky villainy and ham-handed preachiness. A brilliant steampunkish sequence involving an antique rocket hidden in the Eiffel Tower (a nod to Disneyland Paris) is all but obliterated by the rarely convincing depiction of Tomorrowland itself. For that matter, the film is incapable of selling its central premise of DNA-coded Tomorrowland pins. If the right person touches the pin, they’re whisked away to a magical world that looks like a Terrence Malick movie with an Emerald City-like matte painting of Tomorrowland on the horizon. Only not really. It’s just a vision hemmed in by the logistics of the real world — unless you move to the wide open spaces. This somehow not only allows you to get to Tomorrowland, but to interact with its inhabitants. How? I have no idea, and I doubt the filmmakers have either.




The film is not devoid of merit. But its merits — ranging from some terrific visuals to excellent work from Clooney and young Raffey Cassidy — just aren’t enough to save it. Even allowing for the possibility that it’s all well-intended — if wooly-minded — the approach is so adamant about forcing positivity on you that it has all the charm of being stuck for two hours in a room with an endless loop of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” playing. Ultimately, I can’t get away from the sense that what I sat through was essentially the world’s most expensive TED talk. That’s an awful thing to have to say about any movie. Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action, violence and peril, thematic elements and language.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “Tomorrowland

  1. T.rex

    All the critics seem to be on the same page. “What The Flick” were very harsh. I haven’t seen a positive review yet. Probably wait for the brew for this one.

          • Hipo

            You wouldn’t invest two hours, but you certainly invested time to write this long article.

            The film was great. I only scanned your contribution but I think its a bit of a rant.

            Walt Disney was an interesting guy.

          • Ken Hanke

            Yes, well, here’s the thing — I got paid to sit through the movie and write this “long” article. But at least I watched the whole movie before criticizing it. I didn’t just scan it to reach a conclusion.

  2. Nathanael Mallow

    Thoughts become things. It takes work and nothing is final but ever changing growing and evolving. Sometimes a movie is much more then a movie. Life has become a spectator sport where heart ache is not replaced with resolve but rather indolence and apathy. The human his/her self is the hammer and the anvil that forge destiny.

    • Ken Hanke

      This is not one of those times “when a movie is much more then [sic] a movie.”

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        As much as I like Tomorrowland, its entertainment value and visual imagination are what stand out to me. The message is nice, but also the definition of Disney simplicity.

  3. Mark Fettman

    This movie was terrible and you hit the nail on its head by describing why. Waste of two hours. Your review, however, was fun to read.

      • Mark Fettman

        I’ve seen many Disney movies over the years. This film felt similar in dramatic (?) effects and techniques. George Clooney was good, for a while, corny at the end like the whole production, unfortunately. Very disappointing.

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