Tomorrowland feels like yesterday's town 

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One would think George Clooney would stay grounded, given what happened a couple years ago with Sandra Bullock in Gravity.

Nonetheless, Clooney, alongside Britt Robertson and newcomer Raffey Cassidy, attempt to take flight in Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.

Bird, known mostly for an outstanding track record in animated direction, tries to uncover a bit of convergence in this sci-fi adventure. While many moments hold a bit of promise, Tomorrowland fails to really take off.

Framed by the narration of Frank Walker (Clooney) and Casey Newton (Robertson), the film follows two inventive prodigies decades apart. After failing to get his jetpack recognized at the Disney World Fair by David Nix (Hugh Laurie), a young Frank (Thomas Robinson) begins to lose hope in his airborne aspirations. However, a chance meeting with a mysterious young girl, Athena (Cassidy), opens a realm of possibilities in the form of Tomorrowland.

A utopia built for the most gifted minds, the city stands as a beacon of solace for its world-changing residence. Unfortunately, Frank is quickly exiled without producing much of a tenure.

Two generations later, Casey attempts to halt the destruction of her father’s (Tim McGraw) workplace: a NASA launch site.

Though highly intelligent, Casey is ultimately arrested and detained for a few hours. While leaving the county jail, the teen discovers an unfamiliar pendent in her returned items. After touching the inconspicuous pin, Casey quickly discovers that the device is a reality-warping advertisement for the all-but-retired Tomorrowland.

A quick encounter with a pair of malicious, robotic shop owners (Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key) ensures the heroine that her discovery has not gone unnoticed. Quickly saved by the aforementioned Athena (who hasn’t seemed to age whatsoever), the duo goes in search of Frank Walker for answers.

It might be a good idea to get over what feels most pressing: Disney’s self-mythologizing is a bit concerning. It’s one thing to build fantasies around anamorphic characters and fictional princesses, but it is something else entirely to contend that an antiquated glimpse of the future holds the key to our salvation.

The key, of course, is just optimism. While this works effectively in most G-rated films, a heavy-handed discourse over the nature of apocalyptic fiction argues for a more advanced audience.

Even so, Tomorrowland only teases the notion of something a bit more thoughtful.

It’s as if the film only cares to play with the idea of something substantial but abruptly backs away before things get too serious.

The film’s aesthetic is an incredibly short-lived spectacle. What would seem to be a modern Oz is quickly diminished, as plastic-looking ships, towers and robots make the whole thing feel a bit silly. To clarify, the more minimalistic, clean style that made Tron: Legacy so engaging shouldn’t have been terribly far off from this Disney outing. Still, Tomorrowland proves gawkiness and simplicity tread a thin line.

Performances do provide a saving grace for the film, but not enough to veil its blunders. Clooney and Laurie, the obvious conduits of star power, are most entertaining, though the latter does come off as rigid.

The younger players, specifically Robertson and Cassidy, have decent instincts but are never given much room to work with. Casey Newton has a streak of Katniss Everdeen deep down— except, you know, without all the compelling bits. The actresses both show promise, yet these roles do very little to illuminate it.

Brad Bird might have been onto something interesting with Tomorrowland. To recapture the same fire the early Pirates of the Caribbean films bellowed would have been ideal, yet this is far from reality. Ultimately, Tomorrowland is upon us now, and I already wish it were yesterday.

Print headline: No future, Tomorrowland leaves viewers wishing it were yesterday.

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Daniel Bokemper

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