If you’re a filmmaker, how do you know you have a great film? In Brad Bird’s case, you respectfully turn down Star Wars: Episode VII to direct, produce and co-write the family sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie (TV’s House, Stuart Little), Raffey Cassidy, and rising star Britt Robertson.
Filmmakers create a great foundation based on the Disney themed land rather than a single attraction (like Pirates of the Caribbean).
This wondrous film also incorporates other famous elements like the 1964 New York World’s Fair where Walt Disney debuted the “It’s a Small World” and “Carousel of Progress” attractions plus several famous inventors/tech innovators. Audiences who recognize these and other numerous elements will get enhanced enjoyment from the film.
Nostalgia plays a key role here as the character background, technological gadgets and high stakes all create an amazing, heartfelt film. The special effects are driven by character actions and the adventure-filled situations where the robots (a.k.a. Audio-Animatronics) add to the thrilling and unpredictable twists.
Clooney headlines the film as Frank Walker while Thomas Robinson plays the younger Frank. Robertson plays Casey Newton, a talented young lady with an engineer dad, played by Tim McGraw and brother, played by Pierce Gagnon (Looper). Eddie is in the middle of a tough career situation, which prompts Casey’s initial actions that eventually crosses paths with Frank.
Cassidy’s role as Athena completes this main character trio as their uniquely chained actions lead to logical resolutions and emotional connections. Cassidy (Snow White and the Huntsman) displays intelligence and maturity beyond her years in a very believable and heartfelt role where a special relationship gradually emerges without slowing the film’s progression.
This relationship actually enhances the character side of the story in an impressively blended plot. This trio combines into an integral character set who can save the world amid seemingly hopeless circumstances. Casey also provides a key, “bridge” idea while Frank utilizes his key link from the past during the film’s satisfying climax.
Laurie’s character, aptly named Nix, plays a key, authoritative role while two unique characters, named Ursula and Hugo, are played by Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key. Laurie adds an implied intelligence that helps the story proceed without additional explanations that might slow the film’s pace.
Bird and Damon Lindale’s screenplay follows a fun, unpredictable path until the last third when a key character exposition reveals the main catalyst behind the film’s climax, which would have had an even larger impact if audiences had a more comprehensive picture of the futuristic elements. This expansion would have required more dialogue scenes, slowed the visual action sequences and possibly a key character’s real motivation.
This approach does make the film very original, unpredictable, and, most importantly, entertaining as if audiences are directly resolving the multiple conflicts along with the characters, which creates one wild ride. Filmmakers even use a ride-type format for a key explanation sequence where Casey gets important information using an amazing interface.
Cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) keeps a great visual balance of a nostalgic utopia and futuristic innovation while frequent Bird collaborator Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) provides a quality music score plus filmmakers add “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “It’s a Small World (After All)”, both written by The Sherman Brothers.
“The world is what we make it” themes and other overtones are a bit overused, but this film has great heart and comes highly recommended (***1/2). Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language.
Tomorrowland is also playing IMAX theaters and is the first theatrical film to be released in Dolby Vision that deliver images with much greater brightness while also providing much deeper, more nuanced shadows.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler