Review: Tomorrowland (Brad Bird, 2015)

by Jason Suzuki

Casey (Britt Robertson) is a teenage girl, smarter than most kids and equipped with a rebellious agency, pulled into a world unknown to everyone else. On this adventure she is told a few times that she’s a different and that she’s special when she asks the obligatory why me. This should sound very familiar to anyone who has ever seen a film, especially one aimed towards families and young people in general. But what’s unique about Tomorrowland’s teenage hero is that what makes her special is not any sort of power passed to her by her deceased parents, it’s the more “mundane” quality of her optimism that makes her special.

Looking for answers after coming into contact with a mysterious pin that temporarily transported her to a vision of the eponymous place, she finds Frank Walker (Clooney), someone much like her and a character that suggests give Casey a few more years on this Earth and she’ll be a pessimist at a level to make up for all her youthful optimism. The hope vs. sure global destruction and the film’s allegorical use of characters’ age groups is reminiscent of Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) and Bong’s The Host (2006) respectively. Brad Bird’s film is a slick adventure where its ideas are sometimes pleasingly didactic but at times not so pleasingly. Maybe after additional viewings I can discern why these certain instances of the film wearing its heart on its sleeves grates, but for the most part it feels true to itself and doesn’t pander to the audience.

The film, like its protagonist, doesn’t want to sit there and be spoon fed doom. We see Casey in class, teachers all using the venue as an outlet for their own beliefs. When she gets a chance Casey uses it to question. This is the reason she is special, and it’s a lot better than hereditary magic powers. The revelation is that our final days is a self-fulfilling prophecy because of our consumption of give-up narratives and casual hopelessness. But also like Casey, the film doesn’t just stand on a soapbox, just as Casey questions why people don’t look for answers, the film suggests a few in its adoration for not just optimists but the ones who have agency.

Still, like Interstellar, we see hope pay off (this is Disney after all). Personally I would love to see a film where we don’t see whether the world can be saved or not. Even if it’s a thousandth of a percent chance, what really matters is that we try to save the place. Tomorrowland has such a good core though that things like this are easily overlooked. When apocalypse visions and irony are in it’s almost refreshing to see something so sincere in its earned optimism. This is the ideal summer blockbuster, one that is pleasing on a pure adventure level (Bird once again has a great visual imagination, one to match the creative spirit of its characters) but also with a lot to say, a reason to exist beyond entertainment, but without losing the entertainment.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.