Tomorrowland is totally overwhelming

But that’s okay. Explosive set pieces and unconventional characters make up for the Disney tourism pitch and convoluted plot (from the makers of Lost).

Britt Robertson in Tomorrowland
There was a time where the Disney catalogue was so pervasive that any animated movie would inevitably be dubbed “a Disney film.” They had the corner on G-rated live-action entertainment, too, and not a year would go by without at least one Disney event film. Disney’s recent corporate synergy and diversification has made the ‘Disney feel’ a little more discreet, but ol’ Walt’s fingerprints are all over Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, a new sci-fi spectacular written (and remember this part, because it’s important) by Lost’s Damon Lindelof that resurrects the Disney space-age aesthetic for the modern age.

Casey (Britt Robertson) is a young tinkerer and budding scientist who lives with her NASA engineer dad (Tim McGraw). NASA is planning to take down the launching structure that employs her father, so Casey spends her evenings attempting to sabotage the process by flying a drone into the structure. One such attempt lands her in jail for the night — when she’s released, she finds a small pin she’s never seen before amongst her stuff. Touching the pin transports her into a wonderful utopia that looks strangely like a Disney theme park, but the pin eventually runs out of juice, leading her to seek answers as to the nature of the pin with a mysterious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and a crotchety old inventor named Frank Walker (George Clooney).

Lindelof was apparently very much influenced by the philosophies of Walt Disney and his idea of space-age Jetsons-ish utopia, so much so that the Tomorrowland depicted in the film looks like it could come straight out of a speculative 1962 brochure. Disney is never explicitly named in the film (all references have apparently been scrubbed out, though the film retains explicit placements of Star Wars figures and props — it’s certainly the only film in which Keegan-Michael Key throws an R2D2 at a small child) but it feels very transparently Disney, to the point where there are stretches of Tomorrowland that feel like they’re straight-up lifted from some in-ride cutscene.

That’s not to say that Tomorrowland isn’t exciting — it’s bursting with ideas. Bird has a lot of fun staging explosive action set pieces, and it’s refreshing to see a big blockbuster with a young female lead that a) doesn’t need to be rescued; b) doesn’t need attention from a Hemsworth to feel validated; c) can be smart without being the textbook ’90s tomboy. All this can’t save the fact that Lindelof’s script is convoluted as all hell and almost purposely skirts explanation in favour of the aforementioned big explosive set pieces. There’s a dizzying amount of plot that’s dangled before the viewer throughout only to be whisked away by more convoluted plot machinations. Lindelof brings almost the same amount of scope to this as he did to the entire run of Lost, but crams it all in 130 minutes of film that can feel both exhilarating and thunderously repetitive and pointless. A big, fun action blockbuster like this one doesn’t need to make sense to be fun, but following it shouldn’t be this painful.

Granted, I certainly would’ve enjoyed Tomorrowland a lot more if I were 11. Part of the joy of watching movies as a kid is you almost assume some of it will go over your head whether you like it or not, and Tomorrowland throws so much at the viewer it’s impossible not to get at least a little won-over by its gusto. Its overall message (which essentially boils down to the idea that bad things happen to the human race because we just lack positivity) is a little corny and the barely veiled Disney touristic video angle of it is a little gross, but those things would be easier to swallow if the film wasn’t so overwritten and convoluted. The 11-year-old in me doesn’t really care, though.
Tomorrowland opens in theatres on Friday, May 22. Watch the trailer here: