Keeping your childlike sense of wonder and boundless optimism into adulthood can be a tall order, especially when, like Frank Walker (George Clooney), you have good reason to discard it favour of well-worn cynicism and paranoid distrust.
But as the Brad Bird-directed Tomorrowland reminds us over and over in the best of all possible ways – the film draws its inspiration and title from, of all places, a retro-futuristic part of the Disney theme park – we all have a choice throughout our lives to either feed the hope and the light or let the darkness and despair have their day.
No prizes for guessing on which side Tomorrowland emphatically comes down.
While that might make the Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird-penned movie seems a tad cheesy and gee-whiz for modern tastes, accustomed as we are to wearing cynicism with a capital “C” as something of a badge of honour, there is something utterly beguiling about surrendering yourself to the idea there is still a place for idealism and unblinking optimism in today’s climate change and war-wearied world.
It may not always play out as you’d expect – life rarely does that anyway even at its best so that shouldn’t be a deterrent – but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the effort, a lesson plucky, endlessly hopeful tech wunderkind and would-be astronaut Casey Newton (an appealingly gung-ho Britt Robertson) teaches a hermit-like Frank after their begrudging first meeting.
You see, Frank was once like Casey – wide-eyed, wonder-filled, an inventor of jet packs and proponent of the benefits of scientific endeavour in defiance of a farmer father who refused to acknowledge either activity as worthy of any time and effort, who found himself invited by the never-aging Athena (Raffey Cassidy), like Casey, into the rarefied confines of Tomorrowland, a soaring glass-and-steel housed gathering of all the world’s best scientific and artistic minds.
Tucked happily away in an alternate dimension, connected to Earth via portals but most assuredly not a part of it, thanks to the rather elitist worldview of its leader Governor David Nix (Hugh Laurie), Tomorrowland is the distillation of every vision any of us have ever had about what a city of the future might look like.
Drawing heavily on the Jules Verne retro-futuristic stylings embraced by countless dreamers in the ’50s and ’60s, the city is all soaring luminous skyscrapers, trackless monorails, flying cars and spaceships and dubious fashion choices – in short, it resembles in glorious detail pretty much everything anyone of a certain age imagined the future would look like.
It fairly glows with the optimistic outlook that powers it, the idea that a fusion of scientific progress, artistic expression and a firm belief in the innate will of humanity to not simply save but better itself, can avert the apocalyptic destination we all seem intent on reaching as quickly, and messily, as possible.
But for all its noble intent, it is a human creation and as such prone to the frailties and flaws of the human condition, and so when Frank dares to question some less than appealing possible repercussions of Tomorrowland‘s holier-than-thou approach he is banished, an outcast from this erstwhile bastion of hope until Casey, bolstered by a supportive upbringing with dad Eddie (Tim McGraw), comes along to shake things up, and hopefully, set things right.
It’s a fairly ambitious undertaking to fold a girls own adventure into a save the world narrative but Bird and Lindelof pull it off with aplomb, infusing the film with a sense that anything and everything is possible if you can just believe.
It is reminiscent of the Disney films of the ’60s and ’70s, which screened both in theatres and on The Wonderful World of Disney on TV, which fairly surged with the appealingly joyous notion that there was nothing at all wrong with rampant idealism and the whizbang go-get-’em mindset needed to bring it to life.
Helped along by a cast that wears their characters well, and a storyline that embraces wonder, darkness, existential angst – yes there is a great deal of that but it fits in nicely, a real triumph given the full speed, Pollyanna-ish nature of much of the film – and guileless positive self-belief, Tomorrowland manages to have its fun adventuring and message-delivering too, not always an easy balance to maintain in any movie.
Granted, it does darken in the climactic second half, and stumbles a little over a slightly-convoluted, over-articulated explanation for the currently parlous state of the world that reeks of precious message-posturing, but by and large the film emerges with its heady sense of idealism intact, it’s endlessly optimistic, forward-looking head held high.
Tomorowland is one of those remarkable original films out the moment, a rarity in a sea of sequels, prequels and existing property spinoffs, that manages to be both blissfully entertaining and deeply thoughtful, a giddily happy throwback to an age when everyone really believed the world could be a better place.
After watching the film, you’ll likely be inclined to agree with them.