Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Short version: It's a classic Disney movie. Which means that it has a fantastic message, but a bit of a Pollyanna view. Great messages for young girls, but a very limited racial mix. The effects are amazing. The acting is superb (except, weirdly, for the evil robots). There are some really fun park references, but not enough for my taste.

Go see it, unless you hate happiness.

The trailers for this movie give you an excellent idea of the look and feel, but a terrible idea of the plot. So here's a synopsis: Frank Walker was a bright kid and a big dreamer back in the 60s. So, naturally, he built a jet-pack. This got him noticed by Athena, a "recruiter" for a place called Tomorrowland, where all the best geniuses go to work away from distractions like bureaucracy and greed. But then Frank accidentally builds a machine that will tell the future, and no one likes the future it's showing. So, these geniuses kick him out. Until Casey Newton, a newer, younger, female genius/dreamer comes along and says, "Hey, what if we just changed the future?" So she gets recruited, too.

And then things get a little twisty.

But not a lot twisty. Because it is, after all, a Disney movie. And it is, in many ways, a callback to the heyday of Disney live-action movies (Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, The Love Bug, etc.). So the villain does some appropriate mustache twirling. The heroes save the day through guts and good intentions. Et cetera, et cetera.

So what makes this movie good? It boils down to three things.

First, the acting was phenomenal. I'm not a huge George Clooney fan, but the man knows how to deliver a solid performance. Britt Robertson (who has a surprisingly long resume) does a fabulous job as the eternal optimist. Raffey Cassidy is the ultimate manic pixie dream girl as Athena, and yet also kicks some serious butt. Hugh Laurie turns in a solid run with a lot of snark. But for me the surprising stand-out was Thomas Robinson, who played the young Frank Walker. Clooney needs to sign that kid to a contract to play "young George Clooney" as often as possible before he grows out of that look. He was wonderful.

Second, the effects. Well, really, the sets. They were big and swooping and shiny and magical. The effect of touching the pin (the cornerstone effect of the trailers) was done very nearly perfectly. (Or was it perfectly, and that blur was supposed to be there?) It made you want to be in Tomorrowland.

Finally, the Disney touch. It was very clear that this was not only about the park, but it was Brad Bird's love letter to Disney in general. The 1964 World's Fair (which, if you didn't know, was a massive milestone in Walt's career, and the origin of rides like Small World, Enchanted Tiki Room, and Carousel of Progress). Shout outs to other movies like Meet the Robinsons. Several easter eggs like that. Basically, if you didn't get a little giddy when "Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" started, you probably missed half the charm of the movie.

Was it perfect? Not by a long shot. The third act was seriously muddled (something which clearly upset a number of other reviewers). It was a bit quixotic, but that was also the point. If you never tilt at windmills, you'll never kill giants. The characters were rather crudely sketched, but that's fairly common for the genre.

But it was a feel-good movie. And one which hopefully will inspire some kids, and maybe a few adults, to start looking for ways to fix our future. Because it can be done. It just needs some dreamers to get it on the right path.

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