Brad Bird, the Academy Award-winning director of such animated classics as “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles,” has fashioned with Tomorrowland, a clever, but muddled story of a scrappy teen, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson, “The Longest Ride”) and a cockeyed former boy genius, Frank Walker (George Clooney, “The Monuments Men”) who join forces in an attempt to save the world from itself.
Yes, there are wars, rumors of wars, droughts, famines, pestilence, global warming and other disasters that only Hollywood can heal, especially the ever-optimistic Disney Studios. In this, the third film featuring a ride at the popular Disneyland amusement park (after “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the ill-fated “Haunted Mansion”), Casey is arrested for sabotaging equipment used to dismantle the old NASA launch pad at Cape Canaveral. When her belongings are returned to her after being bailed out by much put-upon dad, Dan Newton (country singer Tim McGraw, “The Blind Side”), she discovers a Tomorrowland pin from the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Upon touching it, she is transported to a large wheat field and then to a shining futuristic metropolis featuring huge shimmering glass structures, friendly people in jet-packs, monorails in the sky (sans tracks), multi-dimensional swimming pools and rockets that travel on regular schedules like trains.
Soon, however, the pin runs out of power and she is deposited back in her dull, dreary, dying world where she meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy, “Snow White and the Huntsman”), a weird pre-teen who seems to know more than she lets on. After helping Casey escape several close calls — including a nice little scene in a collector’s shop with a rastad-out Keegan-Michael Key (“Horrible Bosses 2”) — Athena drops off at the home of a now older and much more bitter Frank.
The disbelieving Walker is soon convinced that there is something more than spunk regarding the precocious teen (especially when a group of violent robotic secret service agents attempt to eliminate them), calling for more escape sequences.
Finally, after the necessary expository scenes involving Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and the guy who built the Eiffel Tower, we’re transported back to a much used and abused Tomorrowland, now led by Gov. Nix (Hugh Laurie, the “House” TV series) and his Nazi-like henchmen.
We’re then told that the world’s greatest scientists and thinkers conjured up this Utopian realm in another dimension and that Frank was able to invent a device which seemed to correctly predict the end of the earthly world. Content to let that particular area go to pot, Nix seems to let them believe the end is inevitable. The ever-optimistic Casey, however, refuses to believe it and her, Frank and Athena destroy a bunch of stuff to prove how wonderfully positive they are.
With a new future in hand, Casey sends out a gaggle of kids to round up every environmentalist and pinko on the planet and give them Tomorrowland pendants and start the process all over again. All told, this film does much of what it sets out to do: Grab our attention, hold onto it with a series of seamless and well-done special effects sequences and hope the story will not be too convoluted to swallow.
Tomorrowland has some intriguing ideas behind it, is ambitious and optimistic and is quite visually appealing. The other major enjoyment is gotten from following Casey and Co. through a maze of interesting clues to finally get to the idyllic community she only glimpsed for just a few minutes. When we get there, though, it isn’t much fun as the whole premise turns into a big commercial for green energy and windmill technology.
As far as the cast, only Clooney stands out here in a role he seems to genuinely enjoy. Robertson’s character and her constant questioning of every other character soon wears thin and the talented Laurie isn’t given much to chew on except a few villainous clichés about saving his own dimension at the expense of everyone else (*yawn*).
Check Tomorrowland out for a glimpse into Bird’s continued talented use of CGI and other effects (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” had impressive set pieces too), but do not expect anything new to come from a story we’ve seen before in such better pictures as “Westworld” and “Back To the Future,” among others.