Brad Bird is easily one of my favorite directors, who manages to tell compelling stories filled with rousing action and touching character moments in each of his films to date,. Despite crossing genre and mode of filmmaking, it is something that The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, all have in common. His newest effort, Tomorrowland, was easily my most anticipated non-sequel of the summer. And while it hits many of those key points, the film ends up being underwhelming despite how enjoyable it was to watch.
The film opens with the first part of a bookending device with Frank (George Clooney) that feels (however appropriately) like a video shown while waiting for a theme park ride to begin. The kind that attempts to poke fun at itself while giving you the backstory for the attraction but ends up just reinforcing the artificiality of the entire experience. It’s also the first marker for a repeated issue for the film telling the audience something is coming rather than just having that thing happen. A lot of this explores Frank’s experience as a child at the 1964 World’s Fair, featuring the Disney influence of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “It’s a Small World” prominently. Frank meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who invites the young inventor to a secret place, Tomorrowland.
After that we meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), the high school daughter of a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw) who spends her nights sabotaging the demolition of a NASA launch tower (a cause we can all get behind). After being bailed out of prison, she discovers a pin in with her belongings that shows her a place that seems to be from the future, with air cars, spaceships, jetpacks, and monorails. The pin was given to her by a still-young Athena, who brings her and the now-old Frank to save Tomorrowland and stop a potential apocalypse.
While the adventure for the trio to get to Tomorrowland is both fun and somewhat inventive, the film spends so much of its time revealing small aspects of the story that by the time it gets to the bigger ones, there is very little time to enjoy it. The third act comes with what should be a rousing climax, but it is never earned because we only get a glimpse of Tomorrowland itself. The film does a great job on selling Casey and the audience on the spectacle of Tomorrowland, and it repeatedly tells us how important and wonderful a place it is, but there is not enough of it to satisfy.
Tomorrowland opens in Philly area theaters today.