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Dan's Review: Disney self-promotes in "Tomorrowland"

Jun 08, 2015 12:55PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

George Clooney and Brit Robertson in Tomorrowland - © 2014 - Walt Disney Studios

Tomorrowland (Disney) (in case you forgot)

Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language.

Starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Bauer, Thomas Robinson, Pierce Gagnon, Matthew MacCaull, Judy Greer.

Written by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird and Jeff Jensen.

Directed by Brad Bird.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:

Marketing is one of the “necessary evils” of contemporary consumerism, and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going away. In fact, technological advances have made marketing all the more annoying, if only for the increase in scope and quantity. No other consumer entity has mastered marketing more than the folks at Disney (owners of the ABC TV network, ESPN, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, etc., etc., etc…). Tomorrowland (named after a section of Disney’s theme parks) is a film that should represent the “high water mark” of Disney’s synergistic approach to marketing, in that the movie is, after all – a Disney commercial. The overabundance of “Disnergy” (as I call it) in Tomorrowland doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, but the ever-present dominance of “mouse ear” branding is distracting.

Tomorrowland is a story that’s difficult to explain, but suffice to say it involves a lot of time travel. We begin with a little boy named Frank (Thomas Robinson) attending the 1964 World’s Fair in  New York. Frank intends to enter some kind of young inventors competition, but his home-built jet pack is rejected by Nix (Hugh Laurie), the man in charge. A cute young woman named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) catches Frank’s eye and gives him a mysterious pin. Frank follows Athena to a particular World’s Fair attraction named “IT’S A SMALL WORLD” (now, try and get THAT song out of your head), gets into a boat, and is transported to another dimension (in the future) called – you guessed it – Tomorrowland.

 >>>spoilers follow<<<

 The story picks up in present day, as a young idealistic teen named Casey (Britt Robertson) is caught trying to prevent the destruction of a NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral. You see, she thinks giving up the space program represents some kind of turning point in human progression. After her trespassing arrest, Casey discovers one of those Tomorrowland pins that gives her a glimpse of the future world whenever she touches it. In her quest to find out what the pin is all about, Casey meets Athena, who turns out to be a robot. She also encounters a marauding detail of robots intent on killing her. Athena leads Casey to upstate New York, where the adult Frank (George Clooney) lives in seclusion. Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland for inventing something bad (we’re not ever clear on what that is); banished to a bleak world on the verge of collapse because nobody gets along, we don’t recycle, and we’re greedy.

With a little newfound hope, Frank reluctantly takes Casey and Athena to Paris, where they use a hidden portal to transport back to Tomorrowland. When they arrive, they discover an equally bleak future with the evil Nix in charge of those killer robots, holding onto the idea that humanity is hopeless.

Before I get back to the “marketing” diatribe, let me first go over some of the fatal flaws of Tomorrowland. The biggest problem is the confusing story, complete with an abundance of time/space paradoxes that are never fully resolved. When coupled with an equally frustrating lack of motives (other than the main characters somehow possessing the smarts AND moral compass necessary to champion the movie’s preachy message), you get a hodgepodge of a movie that makes little sense. Speaking of “preachy,” there’s no one more suited for exposition on environmental waste, greed and war than the puppy-eyed and sanctimonious Clooney, who never shies away from shaming the world about its injustices.

On the positive side, Tomorrowland does have some good special effects and a fair amount of action. Brit Robertson is likeable, and the enchanting Raffey Cassidy is a new talent we should be seeing in a lot in future films.

Back to the “Disneyfication” of the world as we know it.

It should be noted that Tomorrowland went through quite a few re-writes and edits to scrub verbal references to Disney and in particular Disneyland itself, where the first “Tomorrowland” area was created inside the theme park. In the original version of the film, Disney himself is credited – along with Einstein, Tesla, and Edison - with creating the future utopian world seen in the movie. Tomorrowland might be a remake of Disney’s 2007 Meet the Robinsons, another ode to Walt’s supposed vision of the future. News flash: Disney was a successful animator and self-promoter, not a prophet/philosopher.

I suppose I should give Disney Studios credit for editing the “Walt” praise down a notch, but those aforementioned Disney product placements are almost as obvious as a pop-up window on the movie screen. One particular scene happens inside a science fiction hobby shop, complete with SEVERAL references to Star Wars including music and sound effects (hey, did you know the new Disney/Star Wars movie is coming out in December? LEST WE FORGET). There’s even an “Easter egg” for Disney’s 1979 atrocious Black Hole movie. The obvious “Disnergy” might have been less subtle if Clooney had been wearing mouse ears.

Look, I have nothing against Clooney or Brad Bird. Both are very talented and have impressive bodies of work to prove it. Tomorrowland seems like a labor of love for the both of them, trying to reach out for a little optimism and make the world a better place. It’s sad that it seems as though no one can get that message without passing through the Disney gift shop.

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