I never thought I’d see the day I’d leave the theater disappointed after a new Brad Bird film, but Tomorrowland has finally proven the man fallible. After such a strong slew of spectacular entertainment — Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — it saddens me that Tomorrowland never adds up to the sum of its parts. Packing in fleeting instances of the expertly choreographed action we’ve come to expect, and the pre-requisite heart, something winds up lost in translation.
Opening with an introduction by Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), we flashback to young Frank (Thomas Robinson) arriving at the 1964 World’s Fair in Disneyland. He’s come to an invention convention and his jetpack is quickly written off by Nix (Hugh Laurie) while catching the attention of the pint-sized Athena (Raffey Cassidy). She gives him a pin and instructs him to follow her into the “It’s a Small World” ride where he’s scanned and packed off to Tomorrowland.
Next, we catch up with the troublesome Casey sabotaging the destruction of a NASA launch pad to keep her engineer father Eddie (Tim McGraw) from losing his job. Soon enough, she’s caught red-handed by the police and upon making bail, discovers a pin amongst her belongings. When she touches it, she’s transported to another world where anything seems possible. Eventually, Athena reappears onto the scene, after Casey tracks down Frank in Houston and is followed by violent robots who want to stop Frank and Casey from returning to Tomorrowland where Frank thinks she can stop a potential doomsday device.
Fanboys will be quick to point fingers at co-writer Damon Lindelof, but even he can’t be completely to blame. The pacing is mercilessly slow, and feels like a really long prologue to a better, more adventurous film. The padding has been laid, but where are the goods? Sadly, all I was left with was the same feeling as the poor neighbor to the family of superheroes waiting for something incredible to happen. It comes close, and aims high, but the sum of its parts just don’t add up to a satisfying whole.
The cast all perform as expected, but the problem lies with the script grasping at straws. You wait with a smile on your face as the film seems to be gaining momentum and then it all falls flat with lots of monologuing. Something Bird should absolutely know better than after hilariously mocking it in The Incredibles. While not a huge success, it is a pleasant enough diversion for the family crowd. But there’s nothing to set this apart enough to make it something you should rush out to see. Considering its 130-minute runtime, you may want to leave the youngsters home. There’s nowhere near enough excitement to keep their interest.
The saddest part may be that the prequel novel Before Tomorrowland, is way better than the film. I’m just glad I read it before the screening because it fills in a lot of blanks that may leave viewers scratching their heads. Now that I’ve read the book and seen the movie, I guess I just expected a more complete experience. And while it’s doubtful this will spawn a sequel, it sure could use one, Tomorrowland really feels like one-third of a film. Maybe if Bird doesn’t take too long on his gestating Incredibles sequel, he can come back and finish what he started because he was on to something great, this just isn’t it.