Off the Shelf…’Tomorrowland’

Tomorrowland_HeaderBrad Bird has an affinity for telling heartfelt stories and infusing them with incredible amounts of whimsy and delight, charm and inventiveness. The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and now Tomorrowland, Bird is proficient in spinning yarns that are as nostalgia-fueled as they are forward-thinking. Tomorrowland presents itself as a duality, which is to say Bird shows us the best we as a society might hope for in a distant future, but also offers a cautionary tale about not taking action while we have the chance.

Now it’s not doom and gloom. In fact, it’s fun and fanciful and more so because of the characters, not just the inventions. We are thrown into the mix via two young inventors from different eras, and, while decades apart, they both embody the same ‘never give up’ attitude. Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), are both recruited by the last of a team of Imagineers (one charismatic Raffey Cassidy) hoping to make the world a better place.

Now it’s funny, because with a title like “Tomorrowland”, there is a lot more of “today” for the majority of the runtime. Yet small technological wonders do present themselves and these highly fictitious looks into the future bring out huge smiles, big laughs and spark imaginations. Whether it’s robots or rocket packs, ray guns or spaceships, even portals to different dimensions, it’s all what you might expect, but Bird mixes it up and hits high points you don’t see coming.

Most of the fun to be had in the film comes from the acting, namely George Clooney who, as always, has both integrity and humor in his delivery. But he’s got his hands full with Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy. This trio truly elevates the great writing as their exposition and rapid fire banter recall classic Cary Grant films. It’s hilarious! But set against the backdrop of an opulent future, the film is an understated yet colorful call to action. Essentially, that grand vision of Tomorrow may not come to pass if our current way of life doesn’t change. The subsequent decay due to society’s lack of self-preservation is just as bad as giving up on their dreams of Tomorrow.

Kind of heavy stuff, but the team handles it delicately and, similar to say FernGully, this is still for kids. It’s really a compelling story (albeit one with a jack rabbit pace), and Brad Bird and company inject fun in nearly every square inch. In fact, Bird shows no shame placing copious amounts of Iron Giant and Incredibles memorabilia in the collectibles shop where the film really takes an exiting turn.

Since the film is about the future, and the whiz bang efforts to get us there, Tomorrowland makes no attempt to explain technology or any of the devices that current audiences would deem unbelievable. Yet that’s the pass you get in storytelling – you don’t need to explain everything, just go along for the ride. And what a ride it is. There is nary a moment of downtime before Frank, who’s had his fill of the future but is thrust back into a world of happy faced, death-dealing robots, finally faces his former (reluctant rather) mentor Nix (played brilliantly by Hugh Laurie).

Immensely talented and highly prolific composer Michael Giacchino is a regular when it comes to Brad Bird films, and of the four films he scored in the first half of 2015 , this is one of the high points. While the story is half-credited to Damon Lindelof, a man whose career is built on providing more questions than answers (Lost, or  Prometheus anyone?), Giacchino helps pepper the story and make you forget about those things which lack exposition. Then again, even without a score, Tomorrowland is carried by Clooney, Cassidy and Robertson’s charisma.

G-S-T RULING:

This is the kind of movie that is right up Brad Bird’s alley. While adults may have a problem and/or confusion with the overarching theme of the film, this is still a blast. It’s primed to be a new classic among children’s adventure stories. With dashes of The Wizard of Oz and The Goonies, Bird and company make Tomorrowland exciting, and it’s bound to win over fans quickly. If not, one shouldn’t lose hope; remember how long it took people to catch on to what a gem The Iron Giant was? Maybe the same can be said for society’s efforts in fixing those problems the film thought would be our undoing.

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