Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is difficult to review, mainly because I really, really liked the film in spite of the fact that it was massively, arguably fatally, flawed. Brad Bird is one of my favourite directors, and this is unquestionably a deeply personal labour of love for him, but from a purely objective perspective it would be easy to tear this film apart, as some critics have. However I can’t bring myself to do this. Tomorrowland has so much warmth, beauty and naïve wonder that being cynical about it would be like kicking a puppy.
Attempting to describe the plot is difficult, because this is very much a film about ideas. Big optimistic ideas. For instance, why does humanity believe the future will be inevitably dystopian and apocalyptic? What happened to all that 1950s/60s starry-eyed optimism that the future would be all about space travel, jet packs, flying cars and shiny robots?
This idea gnaws at teenage Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, who looks like a slightly younger Jennifer Lawrence). As the scientifically curious daughter of a soon to be redundant NASA engineer, she longs for a return to this optimism, and despairs of the way humanity seems to have given up in this respect. When she inadvertently discovers a mysterious pin that transports her to a parallel universe containing an extraordinary futuristic city when she touches it, she… Well, actually, its best if I don’t say anymore, suffice to say it eventually brings her across the path of embittered Frank Walker (George Clooney), who seems to know the answers but doesn’t want to tell her.
On a visual level, the film is brilliantly directed, with a real sense of mystery and marvel. The affectionate retro-futurism inherent in Bird’s The Incredibles and The Iron Giant (still his masterpiece, in my opinion) is present and correct, as is his recurrent theme of exploring the very best and worst of human instinct. Performances are all very good (Hugh Laurie also crops up, and child actors Thomas Robinson and Raffey Cassidy are excellent in key roles) and the visual effects, production design, and Michael Giacchino’s evocative music score are all terrific.
It is unquestionably true that Tomorrowland is awkward from a narrative perspective, and in the final ten minutes or so it becomes dangerously easy to dismiss the entire film as much ado about nothing. Any close examination of the plot and the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards. But the afore-mentioned big ideas are fascinating to consider from a number of perspectives.
The film offers a humanist ideology that if we just stopped listening to negativity and had the will to act we could fix the world’s problems and bring in a utopian age. This is similar to the worldview offered in other science fiction, such as the Star Trek universe. Of course, this doesn’t fit the Christian view of what ultimately happens to humanity when left to its own devices, as is evident by the apocalyptic prophecies of Revelation. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Christian belief makes it clear that after this appalling time there will be a utopian age in the future, but one brought about by God, not human self-determination.
That said, from a Christian perspective, the idea that we should speak and think positively, not give in to fear as a result of the negativity being pumped out by rolling news media and so on is to be highly commended. The Christian belief may be that the Revelation apocalypse is inevitable, but my personal belief is that it can and should be delayed as long as possible by Christians not being passive but fulfilling their God-given callings.
All things considered, I found Tomorrowland: A World Beyond impossible to dislike due to the sheer good feeling and thought provoking ideas it exudes, in spite of it’s undoubted flaws. It is entirely possible that others may find it inconsequential, laughable, perhaps even contemptible. But I admire Brad Bird for putting his heart on his sleeve.