I will not be getting into any serious spoilers in this review, but to really dissect my thoughts on the latest from Disney Studios, I have to dig deep into the premise. If this doesn't sound good to you, because you haven't seen the movie yet, check it out then come back for my review. If I am being honest with myself, I can't take my writings by any half-measures, there are several movies that don't need this type of treatment, but "Tomorrowland" is special. So you haven't seen it, and if you are squeamish about anything resembling a spoiler, please bail now and join us once you see the movie.
I love Brad Bird. He has become one of those directors who I get giddy for just by reading his name. This is, of course, the guy that gave "The Incredibles." Not only is "The Incredibles" a great superhero movie, but it is among the all-time best Pixar movies ever. But I also love "Ratatouille," which Bird also directed. Even though Bird has done a lot for Pixar, his magnum opus is "The Iron Giant," easily one of the best animated movies ever created. If you haven't seen it yet, you are committing a crime, end of story. Then in 2011, Brad Bird shocked the world when he made "Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol." Bird did the impossible that year, he breathed a new life into a failing franchise while also telling a rousing action movie not connected to Disney. A tall order looking at his background and he pulled it off effortlessly.
So its true, I love Brad Bird. He is somebody to always be excited for. There is something about his work that is so entertaining and so rich with detail. That is what I was expecting when I first heard about "Tomorrowland." This is what I wanted from the movie itself, I wanted entertainment and I want to see that richness of detail back. A girl discovering that there is a world of wonder hidden from us is a cool idea. A world where people are trying to change the real world for the better? A nice way to tell half a dozen different stories. Throw George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Tim McGraw, Judy Greer, Katheryn Hahn, and Keegan-Michael Key into the mix, and you've got an already solid cast. Showcase Britt Robertson as the lead and the movie feels like its off and running. The cast is solid, Britt Robertson is a real discovery here too. You can also bet that Bird brings his richness of detail, because "Tomorrowland" is visually arresting at times. There are moments of this movie that feel like paintings coming to life and it is quite bracing.
So "Tomorrowland" features a cast on top of its game and visuals that melt the eyeballs. But were we expecting anything different from Brad Bird? I sure wasn't. What transports Bird's films from good to great is how he is able to tell an engaging story with his spectacle. I am unhappy to report that "Tomorrowland" is mostly underwhelming when you look past the surface. First of all, the film's set up is quite clunky. We barely see Tomorrowland, the place. The first have of the film features an open monologue which runs way too long, followed by nearly two hours of our films heroes battling robots, running and jumping. We don't spend too much time in Tomorrowland. What is most striking is that once we finally make it to Tomorrowland, the place itself is kind of a letdown, even if it brought to life by state-of-the-art special effects. There is just something about the set-up that felt underwhelming to me. The action scenes early in the movie are preposterously staged, and that is quite embarrassing coming from the guy that gave us such remarkable action scenes in his past.
But there is a moment in the movie in which the premise is laid bare. A moment that baffled me so much that I almost got up and left the theater. Since this is a Disney movie, the premise is smacked over our heads repeatedly, just in case we don't see it the first dozen times. What shocked me most about "Tomorrowland" is that it denounces any type of popular culture that doesn't indulge in optimism. "Tomorrowland" is a movie that goes out of its way to say that movies like "The Hunger Games," "The Terminator," "Divergent" and even "Mad Max: Fury Road" are all doing it wrong because they take place in dystopias, and dystopian entertainment is apparently killing our culture right now. Everything that is wrong in our society right is heaped on our entertainment according to this movie, and if we don't start becoming optimists right now, we will destroy the world. Taken into context, "Tomorrowland" feels like it was made by a bunch of bigoted, self-righteous, self-indulgent, judgmental "church people" who think you're a horrible person for not going to church every hour of your life. Look, I don't want to sound like a Satanist, because that is simply not the case. I think a movie about optimism is a great idea, and there is lots you can do with that idea that would be worthwhile, especially for a family-friendly Disney movie. But being so militaristically preachy with your premise was the wrong way to tell this story.
And let's be straight here, the darker rides in our pop culture? The dreary stories that are not all meant for kids? Those stories matter. Not because they are dark and gritty, but because of what they do within their respected context. The best dystopian movies show that there is light at the end of every dark tunnel, or they put a mirror to ourselves and force us to rethink our place in culture and society. They engage us with a thought-provoking, entertaining story and they even explain the importance of life. I got a lot of that from my recent viewing of "Mad Max," whereas "Tomorrowland" just feels like a overbearing, strict parent is badgering me with their overly-protective rhetoric. Not the same thing by a mile.
Also, Brad Bird makes good use of his "special people" metaphor which he has been making for awhile in his career. You've seen it in "The Incredibles" and you've seen it in "Ratatouille." While I thought Bird found a creative way to explore is "special people" idea, he totally wastes it here. Again, by being way too preachy. You see, Brad Bird has this thing in a lot of work which states that there are people in this world that are above everyone else. These people are special with gifts, and we need these people to rise above us all so that they can do whatever it is they were put here to do. Like I said, the idea was daring for something like "The Incredibles," and Bird approached it in a meaningful and entertaining way with that movie. With "Tomorrowland," he just comes off like people who are not special don't matter, and that is something I simply cannot endorse. Of course everybody has some kind of worth, and I believe we are all put here for some reason. Whether or not a person acts upon that reason is entirely up to them, but saying that some people are born above everyone else just seems snarky and superficial to me.
This kills me to write, because I am such a big fan of Brad Bird. He has a great cast here is gives it all they have and I really can't say enough about the visuals on display here. But everything is a jumbled mess. From the action scenes to the context of the entire film. I am scratching my head right now, wondering where it all went wrong. But then again, I am sure the little ones will enjoy all the eye-popping effects and all the science fiction fun. So if you have a family, take the young ones to see it, I am sure they will love it. If you are a parent who loves all the corners of cinema, you might find yourself in shock of what Bird, or Disney, or Bird's screenwriters or whomever is trying to sell you.
FINAL GRADE: C