Britt Robertson in TOMORROWLAND

As one looks at the pin that the fine folks at Disney have created for their latest feature, one can sense a story within the elements of its design. It’s wrapped in a circle, which of course has no beginning and no end. There’s the atom that peeks over top, a reference to energy that is potentially both clean and renewable. Finally, there’s that letter T, with lines falling from its serifs that if unencumbered would come to a point on the horizon. That same T seems ready to burst free from the circle.

In short, when you put all the elements of this icon together, it says “To infinity and beyond”. It’s amazing how much one can say by keeping things simple.

The future begins in the past for TOMORROWLAND, specifically 1964 at The World’s Fair in New York. It’s there that a young lad named Frank Walker presents a jetpack he has invented with the hopes of getting funding to become a full-fledged scientist and inventor. While the stoic panelist he presents to (Hugh Laurie) is unimpressed by the fact that the jetpack doesn’t completely work, a young girl (Raffey Cassidy) somehow associated with the panelist is convinced.

She slips Frank a lapel pin and tells him to follow the group of inventors that did pass the muster. As he does, Frank is transported to Tomorrowland – a place far beyond the technology and standing of the world as it is in 1964. A place of unlimited potential.

Why he’s there, and what Tomorrowland is all about remains a mystery.

It remains a mystery while the past becomes the present, and a teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson) grows increasingly restless with the state of the world. She is a bright student and a child of a NASA engineer. She spends her days questioning her teachers’ position that the world is doomed, and her nights sabotaging NASA’s project to dismantle their launching pad.

It’s during one such sabotage mission that she gets caught by the authorities. During her release, she comes in contact with a lapel pin – the same sort of pin Frank was handed fifty years ago. By touching it, Casey catches glimpses of Tomorrowland, and even through glimpses she can sense its unlimited potential.

Unable to remain there though, she first seeks more pins like hers. After a curious encounter at a sci-fi collectible shop called Blast From the Past, she runs into Athena – the young girl who first led Frank to Tomorrowland, and is somehow still the same age. Athena leads her out of harm’s way, and tells her that if she truly wants to understand the glimpses she’s been given, Casey will need to contact Frank who is now a grown man (George Clooney).

As things grow curioser and curioser, Casey becomes more determined. She is determined not to take “no” for an answer, determined not to go down without a fight, and determined to see what is truly possible.

 

George Cloney in TOMORROWLAND

 

In so many ways, TOMORROWLAND feels like it should already have artifacts in Blast From the Past. Its sense of wonder, its desire to explore, its want to celebrate the marriage of innovation and imagination are all virtues that the very best science fiction from our past had coded into their DNA. As scene after scene of this film unfurls, the fingerprints of everyone from Victor Hugo to Gene Roddenberry can be found all over it. It feels like the sort of story that should be told in four colour comic panels, with ads for x-ray specs on the adjacent page…and this is a good thing.

Its most dominant characteristics go back sixty years or so, when western society seemed bound by nothing. Ideas and opportunity were abundant, and everyone seemed to be looking to the skies. We had mapped every corner of our planet, and we seemed poised to start mapping everything outside of it. Sadly, we outgrew that ambition…that desire…that optimism. To paraphrase a character within this film, we gave up.

TOMORROWLAND doesn’t want us to take that failure laying down. It wants us to look at the information we already have in-hand, and renew the push for greater answers. It believes we should refuse to stop exploring the outer limits, and get our butts to Mars…and Jupiter…and Saturn…and every other place we can reach. It wants us to remember what we believed was possible as little girls and boys, and what we know as adults. Those sorts of ideals are a throwback, idealist, and in some ways old-fashioned, but as another movie puts it people might just need a little old-fashioned.

Unfortunately – and I do mean unfortunately – what we need and what we get are two different things.

The story that TOMORROWLAND tells spends an inordinately long time talking about its titular destination in the abstract. We see Frank stowaway there as a boy, but are never told what it is. We see Casey wander around it after touching the pin, but are never told what it is. We know that Athena is trying to get Frank back there and get Casey there for the first time, but are never told what it is. It’s like seeing Dorothy skip towards The Emerald City without being told who lives there.

This creates a very strange pace, and while the ultimate payoff is rewarding that strange pace undermines the sort of adventure TOMORROWLAND wants to be. The relationship between their world and ours feels disjointed, Casey’s passion seems unrequited, Frank’s want for atonement almost completely in vain.

In short, the moment we finally set foot in Tomorrowland (the place) we realize that TOMORROWLAND (the film) is almost over. We’ve been tasked with changing the world, and almost the instant we made our first mark on the page we’re being told “pencils down”.

When the dust settles on TOMORROWLAND, I believe what people will remember most about it are those pins. They are elegant in design, and iconic in what they symbolize. Like ribbons worn on lapels, they are tactile items that convey so much with so little effort. That elegance…that iconicism…that’s what TOMORROWLAND is missing. That’s a real pity, because what the film wants to symbolize is something worth keeping close in the uncertain times ahead.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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