‘Tomorrowland’ is an energetic, optimistic film about hope and imagination, core messages that are easily forgotten in our modern if-it-bleeds-it-leads era. As lead character Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) explains, we can listen to the pessimist or the optimist in our head, a decision that determines which predominates and what kind of person we become.
The film starts with earnest young tinkerer Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) entering his homemade jet pack into an inventors contest at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Haughty judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie) is unimpressed with an invention that doesn’t quite work, but it’s his companion Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who catches Frank’s eye. She slips him a mysterious pin with a stylized “T” and encourages him to follows her onto the It’s a Small World ride. Turns out that the ride is a secret portal to a future world called Tomorrowland, where the sky is full of flying cars, robots do all the tedious work, everyone’s happy and healthy and the only limits on what can be created are the imagination of the creators.
We jump forward fifty years as nerdy teen Casey is trying to sabotage a rocket launchpad to prevent her father Eddie (Tim McGraw) from dismantling the pad: when he’s done, he’s out of a job. She’s dreamt of space since she was very young, and if she has to break the law to keep her father employed by NASA, that’s what she’ll do. She unexpectedly finds a Tomorrowland pin among her own things and when she touches it, she’s instantly transported to the future city of Tomorrowland, though her physical presence is still in the present. This juxtaposition is ingeniously portrayed but she’s absolutely entranced by her glimpses of this future world and immediately wants to return.
That’s when Casey meets Athena — who hasn’t aged in the 50 years since the World’s Fair — and learns that those Tomorrowland pins are hugely valuable, particularly to mysterious bad guys who seek them at all cost. First the unlikely pair Hugo (Keegan-Michael Key) and Ursula (Kathryn Hahn) try to take the pin from her when Casey visits their wonderfully designed memorabilia shop — a place that every ScienceFiction.com reader would love to visit, I’m sure — then a grinning group of secret agents go all-out to get the pin back from her.
To learn more about the mysterious pin, Casey meets with older, grizzled, curmudgeonly Frank Walker (played as an adult by George Clooney) and once they survive the assault of the secret agents, they travel to the top of the Eiffel Tower seeking a modern gateway to Tomorrowland.
Meanwhile, Nix (Laurie) has become the head of Tomorrowland and it’s not quite what everyone had hoped would be created. The primary conflict in the film is between Nix and Walker, with Athena diplomatically trying to make everything work out okay and Casey puzzling out how all the machines in Tomorrowland work.
The story is light and engaging, but it’s the visual effects and underlying sense of play that’s so appealing about ‘Tomorrowland.’ While some people might see it as a film about “the power of positive thinking” and get stuck on Nix’s short diatribe about how we treat the environment, that misses the point of the film. ‘Tomorrowland’ is about hope. It’s about whether we can be optimistic and fix what’s wrong with our world or whether we’ve all resigned ourselves to the otherwise inevitable destruction of our environment.
Early in the film, Casey is in a high school classroom with her hand raised while a professor drones on about George Orwell’s book “1984” and how we now live in the totalitarian times predicted in the book. He finally asks her what she wants and Casey burst out “Can we fix it?” That’s the core question of ‘Tomorrowland’ and after so many dark, depressing, apocalyptic action films, it’s darn refreshing to come out of the movie theater hopeful and enthused about how things might just look in the future. It might not be so darn horrible after all.
I saw ‘Tomorrowland’ in IMAX and it was gorgeous. The 60’s era footage, the contemporary adventures and, of course the sweeping curves and techno architecture of the future were lush, vibrant and appealing, and the performances, particularly of cute-as-a-button Raffey Cassidy, were all solid, making this one of my favorite films of 2015. My recommendation: go see it. Now. Take a deep breath and enjoy.