Tomorrowland is definitely one of those "see it for yourself" films...
I tend to think that sometimes, on the internet, people tend to side with critics when it comes to deciding on what to see in theaters. What to shell out a good, hard-earned $10+ for. When you see a certain film get marks that aren't quite satisfying, you may say "Gonna skip this one"... But here's the thing, what if you were to enjoy it yourself?
I had this with two recent live-action Disney films that didn't happen to be Alice in Wonderland or Maleficent or Cinderella. One was a sequel to a Disney live-action classic that I love, the other is a Pixarian's live-action directorial debut...
Those films were TRON: Legacy and John Carter of Mars. Much was said about the former's bad script, the nonexistent story, and whatnot. What I saw was a really fun, very lovingly made tribute to the original TRON. Sure it was mostly fan-friendly references out the wazoo, sure it had world building that overshadowed the storyline, sure it was a bit on the bland side. I can acknowledge those faults, I thought TRON: Legacy was really more of an action flick than a continuation of what worked so well in TRON... As an action film that's really just TRON: Tribute, it works well. I absolutely love it.
John Carter of Mars received mixed marks too, and some of those complaints are true to me. The pacing in that film was not very good, with another editor or someone else on board, it could've been shaped into something rock solid. That all being said, it still had a great lead character, a real sense of fun, enough emotion to connect, and a really cool world. It was very old-school and pulpy, and what it did right, it did really right! Far from mediocre, if you ask me.
Tomorrowland... Brad Bird's newest film... I'm going to say that the same thing applies here, but I feel that Bird's film is overall better than both of those two films.
Not knowing too much about how the film's rather controversial co-writer works (I've only seen two Lindelof works, both of which I liked: Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z), I didn't have a problem with the story or its supposed "mystery box" approach. I for one liked that, I liked how it kept me in the dark and revealed little things as it progressed. It made for a lot of twists and surprises, because why know every single thing about the film's titular setting from the get go? They showed just enough in its first ten minutes, leaving me thinking... "What happened? What else is going on with this world?"
I personally like that.
So, our characters... We have cynical, hardened inventor and former dreamer Frank Walker. George Clooney knocks it out of park, doing a fine job in combining grumpiness and sincerity. You feel for him when we learn about what happened, we see why he's bitter, and it all works well by the time the third act rolls in. Casey Newton is the exact opposite, she's optimistic but ultimately confused about the craziness that unravels before her. Britt Robertson, like Clooney, does really well in the role. A lot of the humor and banter between the two, and the enigmatic Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy), adds a lot of fun to the already twisty-turny script and story.
The film avoids grit at many costs, even when it presents a rather rundown Tomorrowland towards the end. Here is a story that is steeped in optimism, and it dares to go toe-to-toe with the negativity of the world, and by extension the films that fetishize that negativity and cynicism. Instead it loudly champions dreamers, whilst really condemning the opposite. I can definitely see how this would really not sit well with some people, as the message does seem rather contradictory at first, but I think the film is ultimately trying to ask... Why are we all about negativity?
It actually reminds me of a song that Donald Fagen (for those who don't know, he is one of the forces behind a rock band that was big in the 1970s, Steely Dan) wrote and recorded after the band he was in broke up. The name of the song is 'New Frontier', and it's a great snapshot of the optimism that was prevalent in the late 1950s/early 1960s "space age". The very space age aesthetic that Brad Bird went for in The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, very similar to The Jetsons' view of the future. Problem is, that song was released in 1982... Where did those dreams go? Why are we not at that future?
Bird's film is all about that, and it really lets you know it. I've seen some say the message was preachy. Sure it was on the nose from time to time, the script could've been a little more subtle about it, but here's my answer... What exactly is wrong with the message?
See, I love that the film is even about that in the first place. I've seen other films with messages that aren't subtle either, and they do get their fair share of criticisms, but again... It's trying to say something, and I think it does. I don't think it halfheartedly brought it up, it's the whole film! Plus, it all connects very nicely to what Walt Disney had set out to do since the theme park days. It works off his ambitions and ideas, and crafts a compelling story out of it all whilst keeping his spirit and optimism close, even when things get a little dark.
The screenplay itself can be flimsy at times, but Bird brings heart to it if Lindelof doesn't. I loved the main characters, I even liked the much-criticized villain, Nix. I liked his motivations, I liked how he was pretty much walking, talking hyper negativity. Sure, that in itself can be the script being unsubtle about its message, but I enjoyed the character and he made for a pretty convincing. I can see why people would have an issue with the character, but I felt he was more than serviceable. I think the script's biggest strength is not only how it handles the leads, but also its way of progressing.
Brad Bird certainly knows pacing, as seen all of his other films, Tomorrowland rarely stops. It barely veers off the road, literally! Its quieter moments are handled with finesse, character interactions? Great! It's not always too, too fast, thankfully. Its third act doesn't pelt you with an overlong epilogue, and the film just hops right to it off the bat. Its tone is nice and upbeat, it's never really gritty or glum or gloomy. Bird and crew want you to have a great time at the cinema, and they make sure you at least have fun. The film's real sense of joy and wonder ties in perfectly with its themes.
It's far from perfect, though. At times it gets a bit uneven, its opening sequence is surely unexpected in the way its put together plus it has its moments where it zips a little too much. At other times it's somewhat mundane, but when it gets a little weird and wild, it embraces it, big time! Walker's childhood "trip" to Tomorrowland along with Casey's initial trip are stand-out moments, and when the film has to deal with tech or its more fantastical elements, it embraces them. Tomorrowland is beautifully crafted and realized, with gadgets and space age wonder aplenty. The nods to Walt Disney, the theme parks, and all things geeky are a nice touch, too. Look out for great easter eggs as well!
That all being said, the film is more about the idea of Tomorrowland and dreamers. Though I understand what the story's overall intentions are, I think it would've been nicer to see this world in full. Though it would probably make the film run longer than its 130-minute running time, I was left wanting more out of the world... It makes me want a sequel, actually. See, I loved what they had when it came to the fantastical elements, and maybe a little more of that could've buffered some of the ordinary-ness of the modern day scenes.
Tomorrowland is definitely more in the crowd-pleaser territory, but it's smart because Brad Bird makes sure he gives you a fun popcorn flick with substance. I feel it's very Walt-esque in spirit and works off of a lot of his ideas and ambitions. It may not all connect entirely, but what it does have is a great idea, a lot of wonder, great characters, and a much-needed super-optimistic tone...