The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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Closed for Repairs

 130 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed byBrad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Britt Robertson 

At one early moment in the film Tomorrowland, a 10-year-old boy who grows up to be George Clooney is visiting the 1964 New York World’s Fair (a fair that I attended at approximately the same age) and goes on Disney’s famous Small World ride, where he hears the famous “It’s a small, small world” jingle. At the end of the movie, I half expected to hear the characters in the film start singing a similar tune, perhaps, “It’s a tomorrow, tomorrow land.” For after 90 minutes or so of reasonably entertaining futuristic action, the movie ends with a kumbaya moment that probably appealed more to 10-year-olds in 1964 than it will to either children or adults of today.


Tomorrowland continues the recent Disney pattern of recycling its old properties to make new profits. Sometimes this works creatively, as with the recent Cinderella and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Pirates of the Caribbean. Here, however, Disney is not trying to recycle a book or movie, or even a ride, but a concept that Walt had for one area of his theme park. If that all seems rather nebulous, the movie has the exact same problem. When the time comes to explain what the film’s Tomorrowland really is, things get quite muddled.


Before that, however, viewers are in for a visual treat, largely thanks to director and co-writer Brad Bird, who dazzled audiences with one of Pixar’s best animated efforts The Incredibles and proved himself equally adept at live action in the last Mission Impossible movie. Both his imaginative design and his skill with intricate set pieces come in handy here.


The movie begins with young Frank Walker, inventor of a rocket pack that doesn’t quite work, entering his creation in a young scientist competition at the 1964 World’s Fair. He stumbles onto a much bigger invention, the actual Tomorrowland, a city of the future that’s somehow in another dimension but which is inhabited by the world’s best and brightest minds, who spend all their time trying to see just what they can create. It’s a utopia, and Frank, whose family life isn’t great, is happy to stay.


Fast forward 50 years or so and another young visionary, high school student Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) also finds a way to get to Tomorrowland for a brief time. She finds a pin that takes her to the same city Frank visited years later, but the pin runs out of power after a couple of minutes, and she’s back in the present. When she visits a science fiction memorabilia shop that apparently has some of the pins available, she finds herself a target, first of the seemingly dorky owners of the shop who attack her, and then of some Tom Cruise-lookalike robots who show up afterwards. She winds up going to see an older, bitter, misanthropic Frank Walker for help and answers.


Frank is now living like a hermit in the woods after having been kicked out of Tomorrowland years earlier. He’s understandably upset, because he’s staring at a doomsday clock which indicates that the earth will be destroyed in a couple of weeks thanks to war, famine, global warming, and all the other neat disasters that we’ve been going through thanks to our modern technology gone awry. In typical movie fashion, Frank doesn’t want to talk much about what happened to him, but Casey pries just enough information out of him to talk him into going back through the dimensional warp to Tomorrowland where they can…


Well, actually, Frank doesn’t know what they can do to stop the world from self-destructing. Eventually, he and Casey figure it out, but the solution is both overly simplistic and nonsensical. Frank and Casey get to act heroic and blow stuff up, and George Clooney gets to duke it out with Hugh Laurie, who plays the governor of Tomorrowland, but the real question of what they’re actually doing in the city while the earth burns is never fully explained in a way that makes sense.


Of course, since Damon Lindelof, who co-wrote the script with Bird, is the creator of Lost, which developed a massive cult following for six TV seasons by not making a lot of sense, it’s to be expected that the movie wouldn’t end on a comprehensible note. But I got the impression that, unlike Lost, which seemed to have an overall direction known to its producers since Day 1, Lindelof and Bird never really knew what to make of Tomorrowland and left things muddled to avoid coming up with tough answers.


The last two minutes of the movie do have a message that’s easy enough for a fifth grader to understand, which makes sense because the film seems to be pitched at fifth graders. However, younger audiences of today, who have feasted on the rather more adult Harry Potter and similar YA works, are probably too sophisticated for the Disney “nothing is impossible” mindset.


As science fiction, Tomorrowland underwhelms, but as visually dazzling action, it works quite well. The highlight is a sequence in which Frank and Casey blast off from a rocket that was installed inside the Eiffel Tower when the structure was built. Apparently, Eiffel, Edison, Tesla and Verne knew something like their rocket might be needed some day so they repaired. It doesn’t make sense, but watching the Eiffel Tower split apart for a rocket launch is loopy fun to watch.


After Tomorrowland ended, I realized that, after two hours, all we ever saw of the city was some futuristic architecture, advanced urban transit systems, and a multilayer swimming pool. Audiences really had no idea what was going on inside the buildings. Similarly, the movie is all shiny external gloss and some fast moving, well constructed action, and audiences really had no idea what was going on in the movie. While the entire experience would be quite enthralling for a theme park fun ride, as a movie, Tomorrowland seems a bit out of reach.

Read other reviews of Tomorrowland:


Tomorrowland (2015) on IMDb