There really is a lot wrong with this film, and yet it somehow manages to deliver its upbeat message of ‘the world needs dreamers’ in a really effective manner and coupled with a brilliantly precocious performance from twelve year old Raffey Cassidy (who plays Athena) the overall effect convinces you to overlook its many faults. It’s a live action Disney film based on a story from Brad Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen with Bird directing the project too – you can see Lindelof’s imprint throughout as he has a penchant for putting the focus on the spectacle rather than the details (his past credits include the ‘Lost’ TV series, ‘Prometheus’ (12), ‘Star Trek Into Darkness‘ and ‘World War Z‘) and there’s a definite loose feeling permeating the structure of the film.
The beginning shows us what would appear to be a countdown – toward what, we can only guess as George Clooney and Britt Robertson (who play Frank Walker and Casey Newton respectively) provide voiceover letting us know they are about to regale us with their story that will eventually explain the clock. What unfolds is a sci-fi adventure that crosses time and space to the mysterious ‘Tomorrowland’ with strong warnings about our effect on the Earth’s environment as well as deeper, and yet often overt, philosophy on the nature of man, such as the metaphor that we are beset by two wolves, one representing fear, hatred, despair, anger and jealousy and the other hope, forgiveness, love and compassion and we decide which wolf wins by electing which one to feed, this is not an original concept but I quite liked seeing it in there nonetheless. Indeed, in terms of philosophy the film has its origins in what Walt Disney was working on at the time of his death, a new age cityscape teeming with innovation that was meant to create a real world Tomorrowland and inspire the world to solve its many problems of pollution and overcrowding, alas nobody really continued with his vision and the area of land he bought for the project in Florida was turned into just another part of Disney World, Tomorrowland demoted to a mere attraction at the company’s parks.
Detracting heavily from the merit worthy foundation of the film is its execution, over the top product placement for the likes of Disney’s recently acquired Star Wars franchise begins to grind and there are simply too many moments of silliness, such as characters enduring accidents that ought to leave their limbs dangling in tatters but they emerge with tiny cuts, and then watching them make decisions that are incredibly stupid given the information they have and yet they seem somehow surprised by the inevitable consequences. Much of this is by way of a failed attempt at comedy but it would be a much better film with it all removed, and it’s also true to say there is an equally unnecessary level of brutality involved with many of the fight scenes as well, commonly feeling very out of place for a Disney film. There is one amusing scene, possibly unintentional, which riffs off the Terminator franchise, you’ll know it when you see it …
Performances vary, but Cassidy is really the star of the show and easily the best thing in the film – you can absolutely expect to see a lot more from her in the future, although sadly one of the film’s key moments with her character seems a little hurried and ought to have more oomph than it does in the end. It’s in many ways amazing that the film carries its own weight at all, but ultimately it manages to prove a fairly memorable and worthwhile adventure, although by no means expect anything consistent or approaching perfect.