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Time is Running out for George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland’

Tomorrowland, named after Disneyland’s future-themed neighborhood, is Spy Kids in space. Which turns out not be a bad thing although it may come as a surprise to those who have watched George Clooney do the endless P.R. rounds, hefting his epic charm as if it were Thor’s hammer.

On screen, the crinkly-eyed mega-star and activist — who plays spunky boy inventor turned fifty-something paranoid crank Frank Walker — disappears from the movie for nearly an hour in a very awkward and not particularly magical script bubble.

Precocious prepubescent Walker escapes to the future with his home-made jet-pack created from an Electrolux vacuum cleaner, landing in a silver-and-light Oz of the future that would have suited The Jetsons. (Interesting side note: at the theme park, Tomorrowland was intended to be 1986. So, if you’re relatively into Einstein, the future is technically the past).

Walker the boy makes this time leap from the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park with the help of a magic pin handed to him by a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy). If you know your mythology, Athena cracked out of Zeus’s head with an unmatched warrior spirit, which is what the Greek Gods had instead of spunk.

Decades later, Athena passes off another pin to the plucky NASA-obsessed teen Casey Newton (Brit Robertson). After going through some trippy moments into a Field of Dreams cornfield (or was that genetically-engineered wheat? Oh, well, it’s not critical), she strolls through the monorail-laced Tomorrowland before the pin runs out of power.

With some script-driven reluctance, and Athena’s expository dialog, Casey discovers that she’s the last great hope for a humanity that is, yes, crapping up the present, and on a collision course with its own black hole of a future. In order to do this, Casey must reignite Walker’s optimism. That won’t be easy because he’s living alone like a one-man Posse Comitatus with his bitter memories, a failed futurist stuck in the past.

Despite all this hokum, and scenes of mayhem between humans and androids straight out of Men in Black, the spunky duo of Casey and Athena become irresistible. They are two shiny haired saviors whose dreams of a better future just might shift the dreary chaotic past. When Clooney does return to the action, older, grislier and as cranky as a spoiled star without his Limoncello, his charm is a rocket booster that leaps over whatever plot holes come his way.

The adventure is everything, and pinning the future on dreamy, outcast over-achievers who are still looking to the stars instead of keeping up with the Kardashians, is appealing on many levels. That said, you may as well put your fingers in your ears and say ‘la, la, la” during the grim montages of planetary apocalypse. It’s the old global warming, human greed, violence in the street “why can’t we just get along” litany that neatly sidesteps the impact of relentless corporate self-interest by companies like Disney.

For those old enough to have gone to Disneyland when it was young (and, I admit, to the 1964 World’s Fair), we remember that the big ride in Anaheim’s Tomorrowland was the Monsanto House of the Future. It was also the most disappointing for kids, an awkward corporate advertisement that introduced housewives and their whiny children to – wait for it – the microwave. That chilly fantasy of white plastic at the end of the monorail was nothing compared to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the giant pastel cups of The Mad Tea Party.

Corporate collusion has always been a part of the Disney dream. While we the docile pleasure-seeking public wish upon a star, our dreamy eyes dazzled by Tinkerbell’s fairy dust, monster corporations like the agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto have been serving us one plastic image of the future, while polluting the present with things like Glysophate and genetically modified organisms.

Now that’s a horror story but that’s not the futuristic fantasy illustrated on screen. And yet, while Tomorrowland could never rival Pirates of the Caribbean, the sci-fi adventure does take that Disney when-you-wish-upon-a-star thing and update it into a palatable, even entertaining, girl-power present. Thanks to Director Brad Bird, who co-wrote the script with Damon Lindelof, the movie conveys both the amazement of Bird’s best animated films, Ratatouile and The Incredibles, and the disillusionment that comes from dreamers forced to slog it out in the real, resistant and very messy world of corporate giants masquerading as kind uncles.

Thelma Adams,

Editor, Film

May 23, 2015


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