Warning: The plot of Brad (Ratatouille) Bird's Tomorrowland is an incomprehensible muddle. A Wachowski screenplay reimagined by William Burroughs would be easier to follow. I'm only telling you this out of kindness so you won't feel like a complete mental lummox when, as this action offering for pre-teen girls ever so slowly ends after 130 minutes, you realize you don't know what the fuck happened.
(That Lost's Damon Lindelof is co-writer is no surprise. Hiring Lindelof to scribe a children's film is like asking Nietzsche to write a gluten-free cookbook.)
Otherwise, Tomorrowland is highly enjoyable. Well, that's true except for the opening when George Clooney and his sidekick talk directly to the camera and you sort of want to cringe. You'll understand why they do so at the end of the pic, which just reminded me the whole picture is a flashback. Other than with Sunset Boulevard, who needs flashbacks? Anyway, these ineptly constructed scenes were possibly added afterwards when it was realized test audiences had no idea what they were viewing.
Anyway, you won't be able to fault the acting. Clooney, who plays Frank Walker, a former boy genius who's only aged but not matured, gives as fine a performance as he has given on any talk show recently (e.g. Letterman). He pouts, he cries, he's sardonic, and he's lovely to look at.
Britt Robertson (Under the Dome, Ask Me Anything) is completely engaging as Casey Newton, the film's heroine. Yes, she's utterly believable as a teen genius who just might be able to save the world. Thankfully, she doesn't have to laugh. If you watch Robertson on online interviews, this applaud-worthy thespian has the most annoying guffaw this side of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
However, it's 15-year-old Raffey Cassidy, a Brit, as Athena who steals every scene she's in. [Beware! Slight spoiler in following sentence.] As a robot posing as a girl with super fighting and running powers plus an inability to laugh and age, she's never less than charming.
Moving on, the story this trio is in begins with Mark as a child entering a contest at the 1964 World's Fair. Due to Athena's intervention, he is given a special badge that gets him on a ride to the future, a remarkable world stunningly visualized that just exudes hope.
Jump to the present, Mark is now a middle-aged misanthrope living in isolation. His negative outlook at life has been caused by his being kicked out of the future by Nix (Hugh Laurie), the film's closet villain, and by having his heart broken by Athena.
Meanwhile, miles away from Mark's secluded residence, Athena gives a badge to Casey, which allows her to experience the coming times. Her trip lasts, however, only a few minutes, and, of course, Casey thirsts for a return trip.
Well, during the following two hours, Athena and Casey must fight two ornery robots, after which Casey and Mark must battle a whole posse of even more ornery robots, and this is all very entertaining. Imagine Tarantino directing The Wizard of Oz. Will Dorothy/Casey be able to conquer evil and get home to her dad in one sound piece by dinnertime after kicking the bejesus out of the nasties?
Thinking about it, your kids might enjoy the heck out of this whole enterprise, and they won't even realize there are holes in Tomorrowland's logic because their reality can transform the implausible to plausible. And don't forget the healing powers of buttered popcorn, a big Coke, and a huge screen in a darkened hall.
Gore Vidal noted in Screening History that "my first and most vivid movie-going phase was from 1932 to 1939--from seven to fourteen. Films watched before puberty are still the most vivid . . . . For a time after The Mummy, I wanted to become an archaeologist."
So what can America's offspring garner from Bird's vision? That our world is going down the toilet. That girls can be stronger and brighter than non-girls. That you got to feed the positive dragon and starve the negative one. And that it's cheaper to make your popcorn at home and sneak it in under your jacket. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.