By Alex Yarde
In seeing Tomorrowland, Alex Yarde suggests no adults should be admitted unaccompanied by a child.
An alternate title to Disney’s Tomorrowland might be “Dude, where’s my jet pack?” If you are of a certain age, you remember a bright and shiny future epitomized by the aforementioned jetpacks and flying cars. The hope of what that future could look like in the 60’s crystallized by the World’s Fair. It was a time in America when, as Civil Rights challenged public morality the Apollo missions challenged American ingenuity and scientific achievement. It was a time of great social change yet also great possibility and hope, while this nation and the larger world was in flux. Shows like Star Trek inspired generations of young people to imagine a new world and learn about space exploration. In particular Nichelle Nichols, encouraged by Martin Luther King to embrace Lt. Uhura, became an enduring role model. Today hopelessness, cynicism and fear seem to be the coin of the realm culturally as evidenced by the public’s embrace of 911 historical rewrites in the form of films featuring natural disasters, zombies and comic book destruction. It’s as if we no longer dream or look toward the stars in wonder anticipating a brighter tomorrow. Brad Bird and Disney have attempted to fill that need, reset the clock and move us forward with a terrifically realized vision of a possible optimistic future in Tomorrowland.
Budding engineer and teenage scofflaw Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is arrested tampering with cranes tasked with dismantling the decommissioned Space Shuttle platforms at nearby Cape Canaveral, where her dad (Tim Mc Graw) a NASA engineer was laid off. When she makes bail, she finds a small Tomorrowland pin mixed in with her returned belongings that shows her tantalizing glimpses of the titular Tommorowland a world almost within reach, but unable to brake through Casey seeks the help of former boyhood inventor and Tomorrowland resident now old, cynical codger Frank Walker (George Clooney) to find a way back.
Tomorrowland to be fully enjoyed needs to be seen with a child. I saw it with my two children who eyes and hearts unclouded by years of self interest and apathy can fully appreciate the enduring message that has been spun in Disney tales since I watched The Wonderful World of Disney on Sundays on the floor in front of the TV with my sister. It’s a film that is refreshingly and unashamedly for the young and young at heart. It’s also helpful not to read tons of reviews or synopsis that deconstruct every scene, which I will spare you here. Remember when you saw ET or Close Encounters? There was no spoiler industry then. No Internet that gave everything away. You have all you need from the trailers you’ve seen so far. In my humble opinion, it’s best to go in blind leaving your expectations at the door. Sure there are explosions, and sci-fi mayhem and action sci-fi references from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea to Terminator to The Matrix but that wasn’t the most important part of the experience for me or my kids. Tommorowland is a small story wrapped in a huge package and the casual interactions between characters and their individual personal growth are the heart of the film.
Though George Clooney’s star power gets top billing newcomer Raffey Cassidy carries the film. She’s the focal point and does an impressive job of driving the narrative forward. I was invested in Casey’s journey so I was invested in the film even when it missteped in the third act. Tommorowland isn’t a perfect story but I’ve never let perfect be the enemy of good. Escape from Witch Mountain has narrative holes you could drive a truck through but I watch it today, with ten-year-old eyes and enjoy it still. Tomorrowland is a Disney/Pixar geek love letter and one particular scene I refuse to spoil for you has so many properties referenced and Easter eggs it made me realizes how much of my childhood was influenced by Walt Disney & Company.
Throughout the film, the narrative speaks to how important dreamers really are. I wrote about the Create Tomorrowland Xprize Challenge for young people that asked 8-17 year olds to imagine world changing technology of the future and was connected to Disney’s Tomorrowland release, to inspire kids to learn about science. It’s great that STEM can be used to inspire kids creatively to be thinkers.
That contest mirrors a great scene where George Clooney’s younger character Frank is at the ‘64 World’s Fair with his vacuum cleaner jet pack and Hugh Laurie’s Nix asks him, “What’s the purpose of this?” Franks answer’s, “It’s Fun!” Nix prods, “How does this invention advance mankind?” Little Frank has this great answer, “I could inspire somebody, if some kid sees me flying around it could inspire them to do something great and that’s important.” That’s where Tomorrowland lives for me. At it’s best its an inspiration at it’s worst its fun.
What else can one reasonably demand from a summer film?