Casey (Britt Robertson), brilliant and ever optimistic, discovers a pin that, when she touches it, transports her to a futuristic wonderland. Soon she meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy), the young girl who gave her the pin, and Frank (George Clooney), who visited the far off place—Tomorrowland— in his youth. All three of them get tangled in forces beyond their control—or so they think. I’m keeping the synopsis intentionally vague; I went in to Tomorrowland almost completely blind, having next to no idea what to expect. That’s mostly due to the fantastically ambiguous marketing job by Disney, and partially to me covering my ears and going lalalala during trailers.
For a Disney movie, Tomorrowland throws out a lot of big philosophical ideas. It dabbles in utopia and dystopia, global warming, revolution, even the nature of humans as a species and a society. I was struck by its similarity in some respects to the masterpiece video game Bioshock, where a utopian city attracts the brightest minds all across the world in all different fields to freely create and explore, unfettered by politics or laws or ethical concerns. Of course, Bioshock is incredibly dark and violent and deals with ethical and philosophical issues way over the heads of the PG moviegoing crowd, but Tomorrowland at least tries to be a blockbuster that makes kids think. It may reduce the complexity of its concepts down to a middle school reading level, but that intellectual core is still there.
In a lot of ways, Tomorrowland is Brad Bird’s love letter to innovation. Casey’s father is a soon-to-be out of work NASA engineer; Frank built a jetpack when he was nine years old. These are people who dream big, who don’t give up, who use their brains to accomplish amazing things. There’s a sense of nostalgia permeating through the whole film, from the retro-futuristic aesthetic of Tomorrowland to the way Casey talks about the future with such optimism and hope. It’s the same kind of nostalgia I felt when I watched Interstellar, a feeling of amazement at what we small humans can accomplish at our best. That’s Tomorrowland’s strongest feature: its inescapable sense of wonder. It’s as if Bird has captured the essence of discovery and put it to film. It’s like going on a Disney ride for the first time. (Tomorrowland is also the name of a section of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. What a crazy and totally unintentional coincidence!)
Tomorrowland is trying to inspire a new generation of kids, and the film does more than throw a lot of You Can Do It! speeches in a shiny CGI wrapper. The film is about inspiration, invention, wonder; it’s the thread that holds the whole thing together and appeals to adults’ sense of nostalgia and kids’ ever-present curiosity. The world is dying, the film asserts. What are you doing to fix it?