Tomorrowland (2015)

Directed by Brad Bird

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You know how sometimes we read stuff off the internet and then parrot it back as our own opinion?  Or maybe it’s a movie, a podcast, a book or really anything else.  It could just be what you overhear someone say.  It’s like there’s a subject on which you have no opinion, you hear someone say one thing, and suddenly that’s your opinion.  Well I do it, I think we probably all do it.

I bring that up here because I thought I was supposed to hate Tomorrowland.  It didn’t exactly lose money, but it was a box office bomb, and when it came out what little I knew about it came down to ‘it sucked.’  Well that was my frame of mind going in, and man I found it all just so delightful and imaginative.  Sure it comes down to the same kind of final battle as in every movie of this type, and yes it’s a little tired in the things that are supposed to be adorable but aren’t, but I found it to be a lot of fun.

It might just be that my expectations were really that low, so who knows, maybe were I to sincerely know nothing about this movie and its reception then I wouldn’t like it as much, but y’know, I think this is all kind of interesting, how we receive something and the environment in which we receive it.  How much of this has to do with what I found interesting versus what I thought I was supposed to like or not like?

I’ve been thinking about that more recently, how much of myself is myself versus what I’ve taken from the world around me, be it points of view, personality qualities, even the balance between optimism and pessimism.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Tomorrowland is based on a Disneyland ride, or is it a world, or just a section of the park?  Either way it’s Disney, and it’s the perfect world for Brad Bird, one I’m not sure what to call other than ‘nostalgic future.’  Like with both The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 it combines a 1960s aesthetic with more futuristic qualities.  It is thus both past and future.

That’s because, it seems, our collective imagination of the future back then was so much more optimistic then now.  If you compare it to working out, in the 60s we were focused only on glamor muscles while now maybe we do a bit more cardio and core.  It doesn’t show up so immediately, unlike say a pair of bulging biceps, but it is there nonetheless.

Tomorrowland is more concerned with that futuristic spectacle.  Should you really critique it you’ll find all sorts of things not feasible about this world, but sh*t this is a kids movie, and I found the Tomorrowland sections of the movie to be visually riveting.

The main character of the film, Casey (Britt Robertson) is just as enthralled with this world when she gets a taste of it.  She’s an eternal optimist, something of a ‘chosen one’ and together with George Clooney she will save the world, or come close to it.  I don’t know, the plot can be yada yada’d, because what’s so wonderful about this movie is the way aspects which could be potentially tired and formulaic are actually quite exciting.

The scene, for example, when Casey first discovers Tomorrowland is there in every movie like this.  The character sees a new world and is confused, elated and generally just a kid in a candy store.  But not every movie can adequately convey those feelings.  I think this one did.

Then you have one of those action set pieces when the bad guys close in, there are a bunch of close calls, maybe a few of the bad robots are killed, the good guys get away and then the story just keeps chugging along with little in the way of plot development.  But that scene here is on another level, visually inventive, at times absurd and again, just a delight.

It involves wall magnets, melted robots, portals into other dimensions, laser grids and a flying bathtub.  It’s what I suppose you’d expect from someone with a background in animation like Brad Bird.  He takes the environment and plays with it, much like in a Jackie Chan movie.  The props are there for more than set dressing, they are tools and potential punchlines.

And really there was just enough of that for me to be as excited as Casey was throughout the film.  I suppose that were I even just a little more exhausted then I’d find Casey’s all around optimism to be unbearable.  A las, fortunately, I did not.

So Tomorrowland, I think, might age well, or at least I hope it does.  There’s a message in here about optimism and changing the world, and all that stuff that’s in kids movies.  It even gets pretty damn bleak at times, particularly when the (admittedly kind of half-assed) villain (Hugh Laurie) explains how we are eagerly embracing our own global destruction rather than trying to prevent it, but on some level I think all kids movies tend to get pretty dark.  From my recollection and perhaps limited current understanding of kids’ movies, they oscillate between low depths and high peaks.  The “all is lost” moment really does feel like all is lost, and the subsequent victory really does feel victorious.

This movie, then, is one I wish I could see for the first time as an eight year-old, much as I wish I had been a kid the first time I saw Spirited Away.  It’s hard to know how we might receive something at a different point in our lives, but I think it helps to at least try to take this in like a child might.  That’s not to say adults can’t enjoy it too or shouldn’t, just that it’s made for kids.

Up Next: Triumph of the Will (1935), Super Dark Times (2017), King Kong (1933)

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