Disney’s Tomorrowland is, somewhat surprisingly, not a 2-hour commercial for their theme park; it uses the flavor and architectural themes of the attraction to build a compelling story about the place where the present meets the future and our role in determining which direction it goes, within the structure of a fast-paced sci-fi film that’s also action, mystery, comedy, and even has a little bit of a love story tucked into it.
1. What is it about?
This is a hard question to answer, because it’s almost impossible to talk about it without running into the dreaded spoilers. The story is a long string of surprises and twists, but we’ll try to, as director Brad Bird put it, “avoid opening the Christmas presents early.” So here goes….
Optimistic young engineering genius Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) comes into possession of a special pin that shows her a spectacular utopian “world of tomorrow” including a myriad of technological marvels. When the pin stops working, she goes on a quest to find where it came from and to learn how to get to the place she visited. It turns out that others are determined to stop her, but she gets assistance from a mysterious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who brings her together with embittered and reclusive former boy genius Frank Walker (George Clooney), so that the three of them can save the future and prevent the end of the world.
2. Will I like it?
If you don’t, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. (Okay, that’s a little harsh.) It’s an exciting thrill ride of a movie, with a lot of heart and a solid message that I think desperately needs to be heard, though it may be a little heavy-handed for some people’s tastes. If you liked The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, you’ll probably like Tomorrowland; it hits a lot of Brad Bird’s favorite buttons. (I wrote more in-depth about why I like Tomorrowland on my own blog, Blue Collar, Black Tie, so pop over there if you’re interested in quasi-philosophical ramblings on a summer popcorn-muncher movie.)
3. Will my kids like it?
I can’t imagine anyone not liking it. A kid invents a jetpack in the first 10 minutes, which gives us a spectacular flying sequence in which we travel over, around and through a retro-futuristic cityscape; there are rockets (including a Victorian one!), robots, chases, shootouts, fight scenes, an evil overlord, and the fate of the world in the balance. It perfectly bridges the twin worlds of fantasy and science fiction, and introduces us to some great characters played by very talented actors. I expect that thousands of 11-year-olds are going to walk away with a massive crush on Raffey Cassidy, who really carries a large chunk of the story and sells every second of it.
4. When is a good time for a bathroom break?
There isn’t one, and if there were, I’m not sure I could describe it without spoiling something. There is important exposition or plot advancement in practically every minute of the film. It clocks in at a fast-paced 2 hours and 10 minutes, so hit the restroom on the way in.
5. Is the rating appropriate?
It’s rated PG; there are kids in jeopardy, killer robots, explosions a-plenty and some tense moments. Small children may find the story confusing or the action somewhat intense. (Watch the trailer at the top of the page; it includes some of the most intense scenes in the film, so if your kids can handle that, they should be fine.) A parade of androids are dispatched in a variety of clever ways, and a few unlucky humans are cleanly vaporized by sci-fi rayguns, but there’s no blood, no sexual situations, no smirky innuendos, no uncomfortable content of any kind. Some parents may object to the fact that acts of vandalism are not adequately punished, and the lead character has a habit of defying her father and sneaking around behind his back, but I think responsible parents can handle that discussion later. As always, you know your children better than we do, but I’d expect most of the 8-and-over crowd will eat it up.
6. Do I need to have read the book to enjoy it?
Surprisingly for a summer movie and possible franchise, it’s an original story, not an adaptation, remake, reboot, sequel, prequel or spin-off of anything. It’s inspired by the Tomorrowland section of the Disneyland theme parks, but more by Walt Disney’s vision of the future and attempts to build it through his dream of EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow. The creators of the film have taken all the back-story they left out of the movie and turned it into an adventure novel called Before Tomorrowland. You can read it after you see the film to further enrich the experience.
7. Do I need to stay to the end of the credits?
Nope. It’s not that kind of film, it doesn’t need a coda or a teaser for what’s next. There is a little sign-off, it’s about on the level of when Tinkerbell used to fly in to close the Disney TV show back in the olden days, but if you’re not the type to sit and read the credits, you won’t miss anything. But hey, those people worked hard to entertain you, so go ahead and acknowledge that by staying in your seat while their names scroll by.
8. Is the 3D worth it?
That depends. Are you there for the roller-coaster thrill ride, or for the story and characters? There are a couple of scenes that use the 3D effectively, but you won’t really notice it for most of the film. I saw Tomorrowland twice, once in 3D and once in standard 2D, and didn’t feel I missed out on anything without it.