Cert PG | ★★☆☆☆
If you were at all sceptical about Christopher Nolan’s status as the preeminent director of the age, behold Tomorrowland, a Disney film starring a ten-year-old that contains lines like “with every second that ticks by, the future is running out.”
Disney is an empire built on character and storytelling – in Tomorrowland both are given short shrift in favour of metaphysical nonsense. What a shame. All the ingredients for a great family movie are here: director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles), George Clooney, a beautifully realised utopia complete with flying trains and all the bleepidy bloopidy screens you could ever wish for.
But for all the Clooneyness and visual lustre, what we’re left with is a Happy Meal toy version of Interstellar, an uncomfortable marriage of preteen sentimentality and GCSE science.
Britt Robinson plays 17-year-old whizz Casey Newton. Stumbling upon a commemorative pin dating back to the (real) Tomorrowland exhibition in 1963 New York, Newton catches a glimpse of a future utopia. She wants to get there, but a number of things – beginning with her dad and ending with a squadron of creepy humanoid robots – stand in her way.
As she and her charmingly grumpy scientist compadre (Clooney) venture further down the rabbit hole, it becomes apparent the world is in immediate danger. Queue a familiar montage: polar icecaps, protestors, familiar landmarks in a state of computer generated dereliction. Strange. We’re supposed to be on a journey toward a future utopia, but at every turn it feels like we’ve been here before.
There is no rhythm or sense in the way it chops between worlds and characters. All cohesion is lost as Clooney, ten-year-old Clooney, Newton, and a tiny robot girl squabble over the reins of the narrative.
For some reason, Bird dispenses with all the things that made his best work for Pixar great: vivid characters, captivating stories, jokes. In the final act the operatic spectacle deflates down into a simple message: optimism, or hope, is all we need to cure the world’s ills. If only the climate scientists thought of that one: hoping the polar ice caps back into existence. Ridiculous, yes, but also slightly creepy and self-helpy. Tomorrowland deserves credit for daring to challenge its young audience with big questions. If only it didn’t then patronise them with mind-bendingly dumb answers.