Brad Bird‘s latest action adventure is possibly his most complex, as he builds an intricate world with tons of “wow” moments – only matched by the same quantity of “oh, this could have been better” moments.
I loved Tomorrowland, even though I sighed nearly as often as I smiled with giddiness. The level of detail and consideration Bird and his production team put into Disney’s sci-fi flick speak to the genius of the group on board. But there could have been too many cooks in this kitchen – or rather, too many crafty individuals on set.
What made Tomorrowland work, where did it suffer, and what aspects could have lent themselves to opportunities that were sadly not embraced? Here is my rundown.
– VISUAL PALETTE If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can reward Tomorrowland in one manner, nominating the people in charge of its visual effects would only be appropriate. The world captured my attention. In almost every scene, the CGI combines seamlessly with the real humans traversing this atmosphere. More than that, the unimaginable amount of details placed into these environments enticed me to just stretch out my arms and see what I could touch. From the soaring vehicles to the divers leaping into various levels of floating pools, you can tell Brad Bird’s crew thought this visual landscape through before translating it to screen. The movie is on par with Avatar in its ability to fashion a world from scratch, and leads us to want to see more. Sure, the James Cameron flick spent much more time in that universe, but the two possess similar admirable qualities.
– MICHAEL GIACCHINO’S SCORE The kinetic movement of the world complements the style of the Oscar-winning composer’s soundtrack, and vice versa. His craftsmanship unveils itself once again in Tomorrowland, for which music critics should recognize. This optimistic and riveting score won me over, to such degree that the next edition of Disney In Depth will concentrate strictly on the soundtrack. Stay tuned!
– COOL CONCEPTS A rocket emerging from underneath the Eiffel Tower? A pin allowing its user to suddenly shift from Earth to Tomorrowland, and then back again when releasing it? A team of visionaries banding together to form a secret society? These represent just a few of the awesome aspects of a movie with such originality and lore that it’s entirely too hard to appreciate it upon just one viewing.
– RAFFEY CASSIDY Though her character consists of machinery, Cassidy’s performance as Audio-Animatronic Athena is far from robotic. Stealing the show as a compassionate non-human friend to George Clooney‘s Frank, once an ingenious inventor who becomes frustrated with the future and distant, Cassidy sparkles as a droid with a heart. Her humor, albeit in small doses, is right on, and she exudes the charm of a real-life Wendy from Peter Pan. Studios should be throwing offers left and right to Cassidy, as she exhibits “star status” in this defining role, more of a supporting character that might be the most interesting one in the entire film.
– DISNEY NODS ALL AROUND Yes, the obvious pieces of Disney nostalgia enter in when the film depicts the 1964 New York World’s Fair – a very cool recreation, by the way – and shows what lies beneath the “it’s a small world” attraction. Other components lay more hidden. Sure, Space Mountain is pretty visible in the Tomorrowland landscape. Did you notice the “Easter eggs,” as they are called, in the Blast from the Past sci-fi store scene? Mr. Incredible and Donald Duck toys are among the mix of oddities. The alteration of the Disney castle logo at the movie’s start works flawlessly. A more subtle touch really made me smile. Since late 2011, films released under the Walt Disney Pictures banner have just been referred to as “Disney.” Following the opening titles, the film says “Walt Disney Pictures presents,” absent in movies over the past few years. Very nice and apropos, considering Walt’s futuristic spirit accounted for Tomorrowland‘s foundation.
– GEORGE CLOONEY DOESN’T HAVE MUCH TO DO Let me preface this in saying that Clooney is one of my favorite actors, and may be one of the greatest performers of our generation. Why he is underutilized in Tomorrowland defies me. Even more, why is it that he only strikes one mood? The script should have allowed for more range, as Clooney has the capacity to achieve just that. Without Thomas Robinson playing a younger version of him, and the child form giving the Frank Walker character some intriguing back story, I think this would have hindered the film further. I don’t mind as much that Clooney barely appears until halfway into the movie. But I take issue with how dull the exiled and gruff inventor appears throughout the final half. This does not fall on Clooney, but rather the inconsistent writing, which surprises me given the writers involved.
– CLUNKY NARRATIVE Many critics have already spoken to this point, so I will not belabor this. Tomorrowland attempts to generate too many emotions out of its viewers concurrently, thus upending the tone. At times we are to laugh, but the next we are to be astonished and feel sentimental. The best filmmakers can blend these together, and I believe Brad Bird is a remarkable individual. Yet the scale of the movie, and what he wanted to achieve within the confines of just over two hours, may have compromised the pacing and emotional depth. The story makes sense at times and then diverges to introduce another idea without returning back to one dismissed earlier. Fewer elements in the film’s framework, or at least a more pronounced intent to attach these puzzle pieces together, would have been better.
– SILLINESS For a movie with as much gravitas as this one, I would have expected the serious peril in certain scenes to not have come across as asinine. For instance, the wackiness of the Blast from the Past store supplies some much-needed personality to our planet, comparatively bland to Tomorrowland. But the malicious droids played by Keegan Michael-Key and Kathryn Hahn are uninspired characters, despite the actors’ actual talent. They just do not add anything to the movie, save for offering unnecessary puerility straight out of a ’70s Disney screwball comedy.
THE MISSED POTENTIAL
– HUGH LAURIE’S DAVID NIX Here are two more things I liked about Tomorrowland: it speaks to the true possible destruction of our world caused by our own species – a trait rarely found in a summer blockbuster, as most of them just want to show the end of our planet without any fascinating commentary – and also who delivers this monologue toward the movie’s culmination: Hugh Laurie. The acclaimed actor could have been utilized even more, as his David Nix character warrants more exploration, but instead the movie reserves him to moments where his presence seems crucial. Fleshing him out, in terms of his motivations and evil side, would have wholly improved the portion of Tomorrowland that many have considered to be preachy.
– MORE TIME IN TOMORROWLAND Budget considerations aside, what Tomorrowland needed is more of the environment explicit in its title. Evaluating the film overall, its first half feels stronger, partially due to its depiction of the land as coming from a starry-eyed mindset based on discovery and possibilities. The climax, with the exception of a few winning creative choices, is standard and does not rely on the setting as much as Britt Robertson‘s Casey does when she first enters the world. The expression of “show, don’t tell” applies, as uncovering Tomorrowland is more exciting than talking about what it symbolizes.
– NOT ADDING MORE PLUS ULTRA The videos below, posted in the Tomorrowland playlist on the Disney Movie Trailers YouTube channel, are unlisted. Why? They are secretive, but have gathered tens of thousands of views through people sharing the gifts they reveal. These could have belonged during the early portion of the movie, in a manner reminiscent of classic ’50s/’60s-era Disney shorts, complete with bold narration and modern resonance. They give context to the Plus Ultra team (Edison, Eiffel, Tesla, and Verne) only briefly mentioned in the final movie. Yet these were removed due to time constraints and alternative choices in narrative. Too bad. I think these would have assisted in both exposition and excitement.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.