"Dreamers need to stick together."
These are cynical times we live in, and it seems that the more cynical among us are always best prepared for whatever catastrophe or doom seems ready to befall mankind. I consider myself among the most cynical people on the planet, and though I always couch it in proclaiming myself a realist, the fact of the matter is that I'm a pretty cold hearted bastard. This makes me part of the problem according to the new film Tomorrowland, and while that would seem to set-up a gleeful take down of such an optimistic film, I'm one of the ones willing to walk away from this film saying that it has softened my hard heart a bit.
Is this a perfect film? No, far from it, but it's a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and one whose message of hope is delivered so earnestly, it allows the viewer to look past its faults and really, actually hear what it has to say. It's a bit of a cop-out to say that they don't make this kind of film anymore, but they truly don't. Optimism and hope are in such short supply these days that it's truly wonderful to see a film standing boldly against the tide and demanding to be heard. If there's a thread running through all of Brad Bird's original works, it's the notion that dreamers can achieve whatever they set their mind to, so long as they don't falter in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
This is a quality possessed by Hogarth in The Iron Giant, the entire Parr family in The Incredibles, and most certainly by Remy the rat in Ratatouille. Perhaps it's because Bird himself was plagued by failure early in his career, and showed that through grit, determination, and never losing the faith, dreams really can come true. This is the same spirit he brings to Tomorrowland, a film about big ideas that it can't quite contain, yet manages to do so despite some shaky dialogue and script problems.
Set in both the real world and in a retro-futuristic alternate dimension, Tomorrowland is about the notion that humans, while ultimately fatalistic and susceptible to pessimism, are capable of amazing things. The problem is that most humans seem to have resigned themselves to the notion that the future is a grim, bleak, and frightening place that we'd rather live in fear of than actually attempting to affect for the better. Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is one of the last remaining dreamers around, the kind of kid who raises her hand in class to ask, "what can we do about it?" as opposed to just buying into a destiny we can't change.
This sets her on a path that will find her colliding with Frank Walker (George Clooney), a former whiz-kid who now lives as a recluse, but who is aware of this alternate dimension where the future was a place filled with endless possibilities. Most of the film's big problems crop up in the second act, when there's a bit too much back and forth between Casey begging Frank to tell her what's going on and Frank just telling her to hang tight and all will be explained. From a writerly standpoint, I can understand why so many critics and audience members seem to be bothered by the film's insistence on keeping the audience at arm's length, only to have characters monologue endlessly in the third act, explaining things that would have perhaps been better explained through dialogue earlier in the film.
As I said, this is a film with problems, and from a structural point of view, this is a pretty high hurdle to climb, but it's also—in a weird way—part of the film's charm. It feels like it was sprung from the imagination of a child, who is so excited about telling you a story, they end up having to fill you in on details later because they were in such a rush to get you to the cool parts. Is that the best way to tell this kind of story? Probably not, but it's also not a total deal breaker either. In fact, the only possible reason I can come up with for people having so many problems with Tomorrowland is that they're approaching it from the cynical place they approach everything else in life.
Lord knows I have my struggles with cynicism, and it almost always wins the day, but seeing a film like Tomorrowland reminds you of what it's like to be a child and what it's like to have dreams that knew no bounds. It's really not hard to see why so many people dislike this film, but it's equally easy to understand that the problem lies more with the viewer and their approach to the film than it does with the film itself. Big ideas are messy and fraught with unclean edges. Take an early scene where a young Frank (Thomas Walker) shows his homemade jetpack to a man named Nix (Hugh Laurie) at the World's Fair. Nix is dismissive of Frank's jetpack because it doesn't work, yet Frank thinks that his genius lies in dreaming of a jetpack, and not necessarily in making it functional.
It's an easy comparison to draw between the film's antagonist and the people attempting to give Tomorrowland short shrift. Sometimes big ideas are enough, and the theme of a film and what an audience takes away from a film matters just as much as how those ideas are conveyed. Tomorrowland is a film for dreamers, and I would encourage anyone with children over the age of 6 to take their kids to see this film. They will understand it, connect with it, and love it, and hopefully they'll leave the theater hoping for their own invitation to Tomorrowland. Let's face it, the world we're leaving them deserves better than what we made of it. My greatest hope is that they're not so cynical as to just continue fulfilling that prophecy, and Tomorrowland is the first film in a long time that has made me believe that they aren't.
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via Box Office Mojo]