Starting as an animator, his creative talents won him jobs behind the scenes of The Simpsons and quickly led to animated feature films at Pixar, helming both The Incredibles and Ratatouille. He also is the mastermind behind one of my all-time favorite movies, The Iron Giant, also one of my first theatrical experiences – which I shall write about ever-shortly, coinciding with it’s upcoming theatrical re-release in September.
In 2011, Bird transitioned into live action movies with the fourth installment of the Mission:IMPOSSIBLE franchise, Ghost Protocol. And now, we have his first truly “original” live action work, Tomorrowland. Co-written by Bird and Damon Lindelof, he of LOST and Star Trek reboot infamy, the film was one of my most expected of this year.
How did it compare to my modest expectations? Well, let’s start with what I liked.
First off, the casting is great. George Clooney plays a great curmudgeon with gusto and gruff charm, so no real issues there. Britt Robertson is the bright-eyed newcomer whose admirable can-do spirit was more than infectious and carried the movie entirely. Then, there’s Raffey Cassidy, who plays a mysterious girl connecting both Robertson and Clooney to a mysterious location never ostensibly named, but we shall refer to as TOMORROWLAND because obvious movie title is obvious.
As a boy, Clooney was swept up in said location’s ingenious open-minded policies, but left after discovering a crushing secret. Cassidy’s Athena is a funny, endearing, and preposterously badass character who is arguably the best thing to come out of science fiction since Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION. I shan’t spoil her character and motives, but the movie is worth watching simply for her lovely performance.
There are also delightful extended cameos from comics Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key as a pair of eccentric shop owners who basically run an operational nostalgia factory, selling working replicas of classic sci-fi characters including Disney’s recently-acquired STAR WARS cast, Artoo and Threepio.
Another delight to the movie is the designs and the ideas presented within the film. The inciting moment in the film comes when Robertson’s character, bailed out of lock-up for mischievous sabotage, touches a Tomorrowland pin in her belongings, which functions as a transportive tour simulator of the titular location, filled with jetpacks, Back-to-the-Future style jumpsuits, and the best design for a swimming pool I’ve seen since the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The main thematic message is also worth mentioning just because of its plea for hope for humanity as well as the future. It’s a message that is worth telling because of the saturation of pessimism in the mass media, which is there to extinguish hope, an interesting take on the ideal. Another plus is the overall sense of nostalgic fun, which has been greatly missed in live-action Disney of late, reminding the author of growing up watching the classic live action Disney adventures along the likes of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the original TRON.
As for my major gripe, I’ll be brief, as I still recommend the film. I have had a tumultuous [read BAD] relationship with the primary screenwriter, Mr. Lindelof. Let’s face it, the man cannot write conclusions at all. LOST was an infamously poor joke and Star Trek INTO DARKNESS stole from better source material without bothering to add any improvements.
The big problem with this film is the third act. Lindelof, or the studio, came to the tired conclusion that this movie needed a defined plot, rather than being satisfied just exploring TOMORROWLAND and trusting that the journey the characters embark upon will be fascinating and engrossing enough. Instead, they shoehorn in a last-minute villain and force in a couple-too-many action set pieces because it’s the safe tried-and-true Hollywood method to make high-concept blockbusters.
Notably, the film has vastly underperformed at the box office; their strategy has backfired. If the makers had trusted the journey they’d constructed to be enough, they wouldn’t have to trot out tired old cliches that ended up leaving their potential audience uninterested.
Overall, I’d say that Tomorrowland is worth checking out, at least as a rental a la Redbox or Netflix one evening. The film is not perfect; not all films can be Fury Road, after all. But still, the creativity and the casting makes it an interesting curio. ‘Tis not quite the new Disney classic that some may have expected, but something still worth noticing and talking about so as to learn and improve for the future, which is definitely for the best.