‘Tomorrowland’ offers hope for the future of humanity

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For Digital First Media

There is an ongoing  battle between those who are afflicted with a jaundiced view of the human condition and those who harbor a more sanguine attitude. The sci-fi film, “Tomorrowland,” examines this dynamic tension between these conflicting perspectives.

The vehicle has been eagerly awaited, but shrouded in considerable secrecy. This prompted widespread speculation about “Tomorrowland.” Some insisted that it must somehow be conected to the popular Disney theme park attraction of the same name. Would it provide the studio with another profitable franchise, à la “Pirates of the Caribbean”?

Starting in 1955, Disneyland had featured a section, called Tomorrowland. It was dedicated to an ultra-optimistic depiction of what the future held in store for the human race.  There is no evidence of such woes as pollution, poverty, famine, or war in this projection. This same upbeat perspective maifested at the Disney designed exhibition at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

Subsequent Disney theme parks, built in Orlando, Hong Kong, Paris, and Tokyo, also included a version of Tomorrowland. Each of them involved strong corporate sponsorship and embodied a rosy vision of the future.

Initially green it back in 2011 “Tomorrowland” has had an interesting journey to the screen. Originally, it was touted as a film, starring Dwayne Johnson, which had no connection to the theme park attraction.

In 2013, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it had a project, titled “1952” in development. Somewhere along the way, “1952,” was redubbed “Tomorrowland” with George Clooney supplanting The Rock as the lead.

As “Tomorrowland” opens, George Walker (Clooney) is waxing nostalgic. He contends, “When I was a boy, the future was different.” We see Walker as a young adolescent (a moon-faced Thomas Robinson) as he totes his homemade jet pack invention to the New York World’s Fair. It’s actually little more than a modified version of his mom’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner.

While there, George meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy) a very attractive young girl, with a freckled face, pale blue eyes, and a charming British accent. Who could blame him if he was instantaneously smitten with her? George persistently tries to make her laugh, albeit to no avail.

The film then segues forty five years into the future. It introduces us to another teenager, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). Her intellectual curiosity and optimism are evocative of George’s adolescent self. Her father (Tim McGraw) had been a NASA engineer at a base that is about to be torn down. Hoping to forestall the process, Casey is actively sabotaging the demolition equipment. When Casey gets caught in the act one night, she is arrested and taken into custody.  Only her dad’s intervention prevents her from being prosecuted as a domestic terrorist under the Patriot Act.

From out of nowhere, Athena reenters the film. Although decades have passed, she is still inexplicably a young adolescent. Athena rescues Casey from some robots, who have been tasked with eliminating her.

Only with considerable reluctance, Casey accompanies Athena to a remote farmhouse. There, Walker, now old and grumpy, resides in isolation from the outside world. What happened to him? How did he become so dour and consumed with negativity?

Initially, Walker tries to deter Casey from approaching his home with a hologram of a ferocious canine. When this fails, he tries to expel Casey from the farmhouse with a series of threats. However, by then, Casey had discovered that an extensive collection of high-tech computers and other scientific equipment repose there. Her interest piqued, she adamantly refuses to leave.

A battle of wills ensues between Frank and Casey. Eventually, the two venture to Tomorrowland together. There, they will try to save the human race.

The acting here is top-notch. Clooney is well-cast as the one-time enthusiastic science prodigy, who has devolved into a deeply embittered adult. By now, Clooney has become an old pro at this. He delivers his lines with patented arch dexterity. Britt Robertson’s upbeat character proves an excellent foil to Clooney’s dyspeptic curmudgeon. However, it is young Raffey Cassidy, who steals every scene that she is in. She exhibits a self-assured aplomb, which is preternatural for such a young girl.

Brad Bird directed from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof. Previously, Bird’s had made a string of animated gems; “The Iron Giant, “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” In 2007, he turned to live action with “Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocol.” With “Tomorrowland,” he delivers a film that is not only conceptually provocative, but quite well-executed.  It will prove nostalgia laden, especially for those who came of age in the era of post-World War II optimism.

Kudos are due to the technical wizardry of cinematographer, Claudio Miranda; production designer Scott Chambliss; as well as editors, Walter Murch and Craig Wood. Collectively, they help turn the film’s richly imaginative notions into a polished visual text. Michael Giacchino provides a moving score that further enriches the film.

This is a refreshingly intelligent and uplifting film. For those of us, who have succumbed to despair about the future of our species, “Tomorrowland” offers a welcome glimmer of hope.

*** 1/2 PG (for sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language) 130 minutes Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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