When we think about the movies of our past, the ones that stuck with us from our childhood. They don’t often make it into our Top 5 come adulthood. The joy and the wonder of imagination often give way to the more thoughtful or edgier films. There may still be the odd Indiana Jones or Empire Strikes Back jostling for position amongst our faves, but The Goonies may have given way to the Stand By Me’s. Yet we all remember those Sunday afternoons when a film came on TV that really inspired us as kids. The last Star Fighter recognised something special about us. It whisked us away and inspired us to be something more than ourselves. To dream bigger and use it to do good.
Much like making an honest-to-goodness Top 5 list, considering a movie aimed at the more innocent can be a conflicting proposition. Do you fully channel that child from sepia-toned Sunday afternoons of yore or put the cynicism in gear? The real answer is the movie should do it for you. Toy Story has it’s share of wry laughs, but it’s core is unadulterated child-like wonder. Fact is, why can’t you have both?
Tomorrowland is brimming with that wonder. A young Frank Walker attends the World’s Fair to pitch his invention. As remarkable an invention as it may be, an unimpressed David Nix (Hugh Laurie) asks what the point of a Jet Pack would be. Although not profound, the response is the cornerstone of Tomorrowland. How inspiring it would be for others to see. Recognising the potential in Young Frank, Athena, a precocious young girl, hands him a pin and dares him to follow. Will Frank give in to his crushing rejection or strive on and become the very thing he’d hoped his Jet Pack would inspire? Needless to say, he follows before finding himself in Tomorrowland. It’s an iFuture for sure, but one with a hint of Jetsons and that magic so often felt, but hard to explain.
This is also the first moment that director, Brad Bird’s inventive and kinetic gusto kicks in. It’s a whirling-dervish of an introduction into a world so gorgeous and imaginative you’ll want to spend your waking moments exploring every practical and awe-inspiring nook. The movie is peppered with these moments. Whether it be a toy store battle or a home invasion by grinning cyborgs, the moments are punctuated with such inventiveness and zeal it’s balletic. It’s rare that the set-pieces played out in Tomorrowland aren’t genuinely exhilarating. All the while, there are still moments of true sensation. As the story unfolds and you get ever-closer to the brave new world, you really do not know what is going to happen next.
Now, remember the child we mentioned earlier? The one inside you? Dying to climb out when coaxed with pure wonder and adventure? Prepare to have the life near-choked out of it with overwrought scenes of exposition. It sometimes feels like the writers (Bird joined by Damon Lindelof) don’t quite trust you to pick up the pieces that are inferred or underline a theme in case you missed it. The narrative rattle that was such a reward in the likes of Incredibles and even the Iron Giant, is all but lost in these moments. It’s equally frustrating and boring as the characters quibble over things we know won’t be resolved yet. It smacks of a Writer/Director giving his best to accommodate another voice or a film made by committee. Either way it’s irreverent of the very thing driving the movie and your own sense of wonder. All is not lost from the bumbling moments scattered throughout Tomorrowland, in no small part due to Clooney – a grizzly best for Gorgeous George – and Robertson who sells the wide-eyed optimism with pragmatic realism, stopping Casey from being nothing more than a cypher.
In the end what you take from Tomorrowland is how much you are willing to let yourself go. The adult in you will leave knowing there were inspiring ideas wrapped in a neat flick with a lot to say for itself, even if you're too cynical after leaving the multiplex. But that child, the one that was wistful, excited, moved and inspired…they won’t be denied.
3* – Too many cooks have spoiled this particular broth