Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (12A)

Looking for a dreamy, Disneyland sci-fi utopia complete with jetpack rides? Then take a trip to Tomorrowland.

Bound by a shared destiny, former boy-genius Frank Walker (George Clooney), now jaded with disappointment, and Casey (Britt Robertson), a bright, optimistic teen full of scientific curiosity, embark on a dangerous mission to unearth the secrets of a utopia somewhere in time and space known only as ‘Tomorrowland’. What they must do there will change the world, and the duo, forever.

The movie starts with Clooney explaining what’s going on, as his grumpy inventor, Frank Walker, addresses the camera. Frank is counting down to doomsday on a digital display, and saying: “Listen up, because before too long, this is all going to get awfully confusing.”

At this point I wish I had the discovered the easier option; to not to worry about the plot too much, to forget about it all together and enjoy the spectacle of it all, the in-the-moment rush. Because soon after that the movie, and its stretched plot rocketed off into the past and future with the force of a theme-park rollercoaster ride.

We flash back to the 1964 World’s Fair, where a young Frank shows up to demonstrate the jetpack he’s made from spare bits of junk. It doesn’t quite work; in fact it sends him skittering across the ground, rather than upwards.

But a young girl called Athena (Raffey Cassidy) thinks he’s onto something, and presents him with a mysterious pin. Little does he know that this pin is his ticket to the actual world of tomorrow: a shiny paradise of glass spires, gravity-defying walkways, robots and more importantly, hope.

Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible 4) tends to include technology-loving Space Age nostalgia in his movies and this one is no exception.

Later on in present day we’re introduced to the third major character, Casey. The science-loving teen, finds a pin just like Frank’s in her possession. Touching the pin momentarily transports Casey to Tomorrowland and she knows almost instantly that this is where she belongs.

One thing leads to another and Athena rounds up Casey and takes her to Frank, who now all grown up has become rather cynical and pessimistic. But with dangerous cyborgs on their tails they are going to need some gun power.

Luckily Frank has booby-trapped his house against these intruders: there’s an awesome 10-minute sequence where Casey and Frank duck and dive while making mincemeat of their robotic enemies.

Still with me? Here’s where the plot gets even more complicated. Just go with it.

As the trio embarks on their quest into outer space they uncover secrets left for them to discover by the likes of Thomas Edison and Walt Disney. When they do make it to Tomorrowland, all is not what it first seemed.

The fate of Tomorrowland, and indeed now rests in the hands of Casey…

Bird’s Tomorrowland is an ambitious attempt at a children’s sci-fi movie, but with so much going on it quickly loses momentum.

Afterwards I was left scratching my head, wondering why the fun had to stop, and everything became so complicated. There’s plenty of dialogue to absorb when and as the movie decides it’s time to knuckle down and explain itself.

In this movie all about the future of the planet Bird’s ideas of grandeur soon came crashing down. In fact it’s riddled with plot holes.

How were they creating a better future on Tomorrowland? Fancy sky-scrapers and jet packs, does not a bright future make. Perhaps they were working on ending disease, war or famine? Nope it turns out they were just swanning around being superior and wearing snazzy white futuristic clothing. It’s the future, designed by Chanel and Daft Punk.

Fundamental scientific facts like gravity or the need for oxygen were perhaps considered boring and so simply left out.

I’m sad to report that the rather whimsical Tomorrowland lacks any substance. The moral of the story isn’t to be inquisitive or even that everyone is special. Instead that it’s only a select few that can change the world. Not exactly a great message for children.

Bird’s Disneyland vision of the future is spectacular; it’s just a shame that we only get a passing glimpse of it.

Fans of Extant will no doubt be put off by the normally robotic Pierce Gagnon in the role of Casey’s little brother.

It seems that Athena took a huge chunk of the CGI budget because her robotic foes were just terrible. They were so cliché, complete with jerky robotic movements and killer smiles. You could get away with that in the Matrix era, but not now.

Tomorrowland is a sweet love letter to Walt Disney, but just like soppy anecdotes nothing beats the real deal.

By Ruth Walker
★★★☆☆

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