With a title like Tomorrowland, we’d expect Disney’s new live-action spectacle to be connected somehow to the “land” of the same name at the Disneyland parks. And we’d be right about that. We’d also assume that George Clooney’s name on the marquee might buy the movie some credibility. It does, sort of, for the thirty minutes he’s onscreen, doing his best to bring his patented wry sincerity to an incredibly maudlin, preachy, annoyingly mercantile public service announcement aimed squarely at eight-year-olds. Topic: Let’s get together and save the Earth, kids, or there will be no Tomorrow.
Two mismatched dreamers, middle-aged inventor Frank Walker (Clooney) and teenage wannabe astronaut Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), are our tour guides. For Frank (played as a boy by Thomas Robinson), the spark is his homemade jet-pack at the 1964 New York World’s Fair; Casey’s inspiration is a defunct NASA launch site. Their shared imaginations, guided firmly by the musical strains from Disneyland’s corporate chill-ride “It’s a Small World,” lead them to the realization that, despite the wowie-zowie visions of future fashions and swimming pools hanging in the air, the environment is taking a beating and the future looks pretty grim. Unless they can literally join hands with like-minded, similarly tech-enabled consumers from around the globe, Casey’s family home in Florida is going to be underwater.
Clooney’s got to eat like everyone else, so we shouldn’t rag him for taking the money and hamming it up for a Saturday kiddie matinee audience. It’s just that we expect a little more from the actor who gave us Gravity, The Descendants, Up in the Air, Michael Clayton, Three Kings, and other films Disney wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. Walt Disney and George Clooney just don’t mix. Disney’s PC efforts Mulan and Pocahontas were a lot easier to swallow than this lead balloon with its heavenly choir music.
In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the inquisitor O’Brien says: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” In the world of Disney’s Tomorrowland, that cruel boot has been replaced by the cute little slippers of Minnie Mouse, but she’s still stamping on our face. Tomorrowland is a silly but sinister place that seeks to reassure us, but ultimately only on its own terms. We’d be better off going to Knott’s Berry Farm instead.