Tomorrowland review: You don't want to go on this ride, even if it is with George Clooney

Deepanjana Pal

May 22, 2015 11:50:02 IST

The future, if you see it through director Brad Bird's eyes, isn't looking very good. In it, George Clooney apparently can't get hold of a razor. People wear clothes that make them look like they've attended a Star Trek convention. Mattel, manufacturer of Barbie dolls, appears to have diversified into making robots that look like dark-haired Kens. Most importantly, we have approximately 63 days before the world will go kaboom because of a natural disaster that cannot be predicted and therefore cannot be avoided.

Except of course, it can. You know it can because Tomorrowland is a Disney movie, starring Clooney. Which means you live in hope that he will save the world and, hopefully, get a shave somewhere along the way.

However, most of the heavy lifting as far as saving the world is concerned, is not done by Clooney in Brad Bird's second live-action film. The real genius and hope lie in two children and a robot. One of the children is young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), who walks into New York's World Fair in 1965, with his awesome new invention: a jet pack. It doesn't work in practice, but as a concept, it's a winner. The director of the fair dismisses Frank, but a little girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) slyly gives Frank a badge and instructs him to follow her discreetly. He does, and ends up confirming what many of us have long believed: under Disneyland's shiny, happy rides is a far more sinister world.

At one point, in the middle of the It's A Small World ride, the floor slides open and down whooshes young Frank. Next thing he knows, he's in Tomorrowland — a place of the future, with spaghetti highways, metallic towers and people in outlandish clothes. It's also a utopia, we're informed. Here, the brightest minds have come together to create a new, forward-looking society. Here, they can create, invent and build to their heart's content. No politicians or corporations will get in their way, nothing will stifle them.

By the time young Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) encounters Athena — still limpid-eyed and still a little girl — we're in the present. Earth is facing environmental threats that are so dire that everyone's given up trying to fix the problems. Tomorrowland has been forgotten because it turned from utopia to dystopia. After being exiled from Tomorrowland, Frank has grown up to be Clooney-with-unflattering-stubble, which means even this development isn't entirely happy-making. He also wants to have nothing to do with Tomorrowland.

Can Casey, Athena and Frank save the world and Tomorrowland? Will they die fighting evil robots? Actually, neither of these questions are relevant. The real point of concern as far as the film is concerned is, do we care about any of this? And the answer is, no. Why? Because Tomorrowland is as humourless and didactic as a classroom lecture.


George Clooney in Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland is a film that takes itself very, very seriously and is sincerely committed to teaching its audience many things — like hope, ethics and the importance of matching your temperament to the colours you wear (bad guys wear black; those who feel confused and depressed wear grey; the passionate one wears red, and so on). This wouldn't be so bad if Tomorrowland was also engaging.

Written by Damen Lindelof, Jeff Jenson and director Brad Bird, Tomorrowland is a wordy film that you could follow with your eyes closed because it's as talky as a radio play. There are a number of action sequences and some are nicely choreographed, like the tricked-out house that is designed to withstand a robot attack and the visit to the Eiffel Tower, but the film lacks tension. Even when a mighty robot is punching his way through a metal wall, you don't really feel much by way of suspense. You don't know why these robots are doing what they're doing and why they shouldn't. Plus, you don't either know or care much for the heroes, who will undoubtedly remain unscathed since it's a Disney film. So you reach for the popcorn and munch absently.

It takes an hour for the premise of Tomorrowland to set up and you keep waiting for "wow" moments as Bird crafts his meandering introduction to the utopia. But it's all in vain. The characters are flatter than the stereotypical pancake and even the actors seem to be bored by the roles they play. There's a little bit of Interstellar, a touch of Terminator, a nod to Stargate and other little elements scavenged from past films in the patchwork quilt that is Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, this also means that Tomorrowland is a collection of "huh" moments. The only benefit of the film verging on boring is that you may not notice massive lapses in logic and holes in the narrative; simply because you can't be bothered.

Tomorrowland's real failure is that it is prey to the very negativity that it warns us against — the utopia it shows us isn't a shining example of a thriving imagination, but a gravestone to it. This is shocking because Bird has created some of the most poignant and beautifully-rendered worlds and characters in past films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. He's imagined unforgettable characters like Edna Mode and come up with delightfully ludicrous ideas like a rat using a human as a marionette by yanking at his hair.

Yet the same Bird (and the Disney team that worked on Tomorrowland) fails to imagine a man-made future. All they can do is come up with a postcard, with wheat fields (America's equivalent to our sarson ki kheti) and a shadowy, spiky set of metallic towers in the distance.

When we see inside Tomorrowland, it's just not awe-inspiring and neither is it original. We've seen so many examples of more intricately and spectacularly imagined futuristic cities, ranging from Spike Jonze's Los Angeles in Her to the fantastical places in The Fifth Element. Much of the film's plot rests upon us being fascinated by Tomorrowland and longing for it — but we don't, not matter how many times Casey widens her eyes and insists, "Whoa! That's amazing!"

At best, Bird's vision in Tomorrowland is dated and subscribes to what was deemed "futuristic" in the 1960s. At worst, it looks like an newly-rented apartment that is yet to be furnished. Supposedly created by the most brilliant, there's no sign of genius or idiosyncrasy in the characterless and charmless cityscape. It looks like a facade that has nothing beyond it.

Looking at Tomorrowland's pristine blandness and its white and grey architecture, you can't help but feel happy about our earth. Messy and doomed as it may be, the planet is beautiful and vibrant despite and because of us. If nothing else, its urban ugliness provokes emotions, its natural beauty inspires and a human endeavour as simple as decorating a room carries in it a spark of individual spirit. Tomorrowland, in contrast, is not just dull but also lifeless.

Updated Date: May 22, 2015 14:53 PM