Optimism doesn’t really have a place in the summer movie season. Even at the end of the average popcorn muncher, when the protagonists stand tall above their defeated foes, it usually takes a whole lot of shit getting blown up real good to get there, and presumably a whole lot of casualties. Even Disney’s own Avengers: Age of Ultron took great pains this year to illustrate the personal fallout of widespread violence, a direct response to blockbusters from years past like Man of Steel and yes, even the first Avengers film, where cities were toppled to the ground with little regard for the consequences on a human scale. Disney’s Tomorrowland attempts the tip those scales in favor of positivity and wonder, but all while employing the convenient plot device of a world still hanging in the balance.
George Clooney stars as Frank Walker, starting with his character in the 60’s as a boy inventor of a barely functioning rocket pack, he attends the famed 1964 World’s Fair, birthplace of such Disney ephemera as the Carousel of Progress and It’s A Small World, and boy do they lay it on thick. There to enter an inventing contest, Frank fails to impress judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie, currently hilarious on Veep) but gains the attention of his daughter Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who slips him a pin that gains him access to Tomorrowland, a sort of think tank for geniuses in the form of a city, which of course is accessed through a trap door in the Small World ride.
The product placement is sort of off putting, especially for an admitted lapsed Disney Theme Park nerd like myself, but the movie soon moves beyond that as we catch up in the present day with Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a similarly underappreciated genius who is running into trouble attempting to sabotage the closing of the NASA launch platform where her father works. She soon finds a familiar pin in with her belongings when being released from jail, and with that, the game is afoot.
Without spoiling anything, the movie is both equal parts predictable and unpredictable, playing out as you’d expect but in unexpected ways, but save for a few inspired scenes (one taking place in a sci-fi collectibles store run by indie comedy favorites Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key was a particular standout) it’s pretty much your standard kid friendly action adventure with mild conspiracy theory elements, sort of an alien-less Men in Black. Only the Wall-E style preachiness of the climax, blaming humanity’s overall pessimistic outlook and enthusiasm about post-apocalyptic entertainments for their own possible annihilation, had me rolling my eyes though, with the rest of the movie, however cliché, being charmingly, inoffensively enjoyable. See it in 3D if you can, we caught a standard screening and sort of regretted it, but check it out soon if you’re even marginally interested. Weekend box office receipts were well below industry expectations so it might not last long in theaters.