Saturday, 28 May 2016

Film Review | Tomorrowland (2015)

Image via The Guardian

Because of the inner Disneyland geek within me, I'd been wanting to see Tomorrowland ever since Brad Bird announced he was directing it. Then the reviews came in, and I did what I tell people not to do - avoided it. I didn't want to be thoroughly disappointed with it, so I completely forgot about it. 

Of course, that all changed a few weeks ago. 

Tomorrowland is directed by Brad Bird, whom you may recognize as one of Pixar's alumni, behind The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007). Tomorrowland was in development for quite some time, with Walt Disney Pictures announcing it back in 2011, four years before its eventual release, under the title 1952. The film was eventually renamed Tomorrowland, after the futuristic land in the Disney theme parks. The film itself isn't specifically based around the land, as many thought it would be, but Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof used aspects of Tomorrowland and EPCOT as inspiration, with Walt Disney's planned community of EPCOT finally seeing a fully conceptualized albeit fictional reality on the big screen. Bird and Lindelof also took inspiration of the fascination of the Space Age, mainly within the 1950s and 60s, and its ultimate diminishing cultural relevance. This aspect is mainly portrayed through the protagonist Casey Newton in our current decade, portrayed by Britt Robertson. 

Without giving too much away, Tomorrowland follows Casey and genius yet isolated inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) on an adventure to a - what seems to be - optimistic alternate dimension, Tomorrowland. Newton and Walker's interactions with said alternate universe have a direct implication on the future of the earth, which is seemingly doomed with a dystopian future. They, along with Frank's friend Athena (Raffery Cassidy) whom he met at the 1964 World's Fair - whom hasn't aged a day since 1964 - strive to fix the future, which is deemed impossible by leader of Tomorrowland David Nix (Hugh Laurie). 

Tomorrowland is an amazing reincarnation of Walt Disney's idea and vision of what EPCOT and Tomorrowland were supposed to eventually become. After getting to see his plans in Orlando and experience how he'd originally planned EPCOT to be, this film really plays on what could have happened if he were alive to carry it out. This visualization is woven in throughout the film, but it struck me the most through the opening being set in the 1964 World's Fair, with glimpses of Disney's 'Carousel of Progress', which was specifically developed for the event. The whole concept of Disney's 'Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow' is something that I'm immensely interested in itself, and I'll delve into that in another post eventually. But, Tomorrowland carries the same premise that Disney had in the conceptual phase of the project, that he wanted to build a safe community (and eventual city) in Florida, after becoming worried for the world his grandchildren would inevitably inhabit - i.e. hectic, dirty, crime-ridden cities. And he was to do so through his fascination with futurism, scientific innovation and utopia, all of which Bird conveys in the story elements. 

Image via
Bird gives his 21st century audience something that hasn't been seen on screen in a while, and that is optimism. Blind optimism, for the sake of mentioning it, seeing as we're completely lacking it recently with the point that Bird makes throughout the film; everyone being obsessed with world inhalation in fantastic ways, but always missing the glaring problems right in front of them. The majority of the reviews I read criticized this film for making the real Tomorrowland a dystopian society, and not the optimistic vision that Disney had created. But that's the point. It's this futile reality that encourages Casey and Frank to do something about it, even when the dismal David Nix believes that nothing can be done to save humanity. 

With all that's happening in the world recently, we need this blind optimism. That whatever problem we are faced with - whether collectively or singularly - we can overcome it. And this mindset is embodied through a female protagonist. A female protagonist that throughout the film is not fawning over a boy, has her own mind and isn't dependent on a man, and is engaged in an otherwise male interest and career. Hell, Frank depends on her more than anything throughout the duration of the film. It's through Casey that we see how we as a society are lacking in these two qualities. It's a film like Tomorrowland that reminds us that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. Especially for young girls. 

I personally haven't been so engrossed with a film as I was with Tomorrowland in a long, long time. The story was consistent, the themes fit with Walt Disney's conceptualization of EPCOT and Tomorrowland perfectly, and the last act was an engaged as the first two, despite what many critics said during it's release. If you're familiar with the EPCOT and Tomorrowland concept, Bird makes the film work even more as to what he is trying to achieve - that being a sense of hope in a world full of apocalyptic dread. As Bird has said, "yet now we act like we're passengers on a bus with no say in where it's going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise could be." 


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