2015’s early summer blockbuster adventure, starts with Brad Bird’s sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland, a great time, yet one of the strangest family movies I’ve ever seen; Bird’s not just making his own case for hope, hes making a hysterical, extremely faithful case against anti-hope.
After a lengthy prologue, in which George Clooney in a futuristic suit addresses an unseen audience, Bird flashes back to perhaps the 20th century;s most enduring symbol of technological optimism: The 1964 New York World’s Fair. Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, is a preteen science nerd who is demonstrating his semifunctional homemade jetpack to a British scientist called Nix played by Hugh Laurie. Nix belittles Frank, but a young girl named Athena, who appears to be Nix’s daughter, secretly slips the boy a World’s Fair pin that transports him somewhere fabulous.
As fabulous a place as it was, I can’t find the words to describe it, because that’t the fun Tomorrowland coming from being constantly upended. But let me tell you, for Bird, the ’64 fair is utopia. This was an era when kids made rockets in garages out of vacuum cleaner parts; when a clean, cheerful “city of the future” inspired awe instead of cynicism. For Frank, anything seems possible.
While Frank isn’t the movies protagonist, it’s someone cut from the same cloth. Casey Newton is a 2015 Florida teen (played by Britt Robertson) whose father works for NASA overseeing the dismantling of rockets that will never be used. As a budding rocket scientist, shes outraged by the failure to support the space program, she sends homemade drones to sabotage the equipment – and gets caught. After being sprung from jail, she finds in her belongings the same kind of pin that sent Frank on the ride of his life. Every time she touches it, she’s in what I’m seems to be something like a Purgatory.
While some might not clue into why Casey and Frank for the pin, I believe that it’s because they have imaginations that can’t be dampened. Then, Casey’s dad poses a riddle that becomes the cornerstone of not only her, but the films worldview” You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one lives? Casey knows the answer: “The one you feed.”
After Casey joins forces with the middle-aged Frank, much of Tomorrowland is space-and-time jumping blast-’em-up battles with human-looking robots. But the most vivid thing is the message: a critique of films, books and TV shows in which floods, plagues, robots, or nukes wipe our civilization, making a valid point that out society has become so comfortable with the vision of apocalypse, that we’re not dreaming up solutions.
While this may be true, Tomorrowland has a weird side, too. Bird has acknowledged the influence of Ayn Rand’s militant individualism, and so the enemies he identifies aren’t the people causing climate change, but rather the doomsaying collective, liek the science teacher who drones on about temperature rise and looks dumbly at Casey when she interrupts to ask, “Can we fix it?” Nihilistic groupthink rules our culture, says Bird, and Casey’s positivity makes her a pariah.
But that wasn’t what I enjoyed most about the film, it was Bird’s, (the creator of The Incredibles, ratatouille, and the last Mission: Impossible film, Ghost Protocol, combines two worlds, mixing his love of classic cinema, and an animator’s sense of possibilities.