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All Aboard for Tomorrowland

Brad Bird has given us the coolest movie of the year—if you share his youthful belief that the future was always supposed to be cool. That’s what I was taught to believe by such visionaries as Walt Disney, whose optimistic outlook is keenly felt in Tomorrowland. To be clear, director Bird and his co-writers, Jeff Jensen and Damon Lindelof, aren’t blind to the realities of modern life. They introduce cynicism and realism into their narrative in a way that Disney might have dodged. But ultimately they convey a message of hope that’s rare in contemporary cinema, where dystopian visions prevail. I think Walt would have approved of Bird’s alternate view. And I suspect he would have enjoyed the thrill-ride aspect of Tomorrowland.

The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to keep the details of their story under wraps, and I won’t be the one to upset that apple cart. I will reveal this much: the very likable Britt Robertson plays a feisty, fearless teenage science nerd. Her curiosity and determination lead her to a mysterious man (George Clooney) who’s living a hermit-like existence, having had his own boyhood ambitions thwarted. They wind up joining forces against an unnamed enemy, and beyond that I’ll protect the spoilers.

Tomorrowland deals with childhood dreams gone astray, a hidden (or is it forbidden?) world of the future, and the belief that humans of all ages and stripes can still make a difference. But being the canny filmmaker he is, Bird has wrapped all of this in a high-energy package filled with action, suspense, and often-thrilling special effects. Michael Giacchino’s full-bodied score supports every facet of the story.

George Clooney - Tomorrowland

(Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.
“Tomorrowland”)

George Clooney is ideally cast as the onetime believer who has been drained of hope—and regains a spark of his boyhood earnestness after spending time with Robertson, who hasn’t given up on a world of possibilities. Clooney seems genuinely invested in this role and he’s a pleasure to watch. Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Tim McGraw, and Raffey Cassidy make smaller but significant contributions along the way. (If you’re a baby boomer, pay attention during Hahn and Key’s scene and you’ll see some welcome, familiar figures.)

My only complaint about Tomorrowland is one I have about almost all of Bird’s movies: it goes on too long. The clutter of the second act bogs down the film and delays it from reaching its rousing (and surprising) conclusion. But because I love the idea behind this film, and enjoy the first and third acts so much, I’m reluctant to dwell on the negative. This is a movie about positivity and that’s how I’d like to position my review.

And despite its flaws, Tomorrowland is really cool to watch. I hope young people take away the message it imparts: we could use more dreamers and “do-ers” and fewer cynics on this planet.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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