Tomorrowland is a goofy, good-natured film about optimism, '60s-era futurism and rampant Disney nostalgia. It's best when it pokes fun at some of its smarmier bits, which it does often, but not often enough to dispel a generally saccharine vibe.
The film centers on the dual adventures of Frank Walker — a brilliant boy inventor who goes to the 1964 New York World's Fair with his prototype jetpack (and ends up in a mysterious, futuristic world); and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a present-day girl genius who scores a mysterious invite to Tomorrowland herself. The film takes place mostly in the present day, where dystopian fiction and doomsday predictions about the environment, war and disease threaten to bring the world to its knees. Newton, though, is a dreamer, and her quest to seek out "Tomorrowland" and bring a little hope back to the world is heartfelt.
That quest takes Newton — and her more-than-meets-the-eye companion, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), on a wild chase across the country, seeking the grown-up Walker (a depressed-looking George Clooney), the only guy who knows how to unlock the secrets of Tomorrowland.
Tomorrowland works beautifully when it pokes gentle fun at its premise. This is basically a movie about a kid who wants to save the world, about the value of optimism and being a dreamer, even when it's not cool to be one. That's a great message, but it goes down easier with a little comedy. There are plenty of subtle (and not as subtle) jokes about Disney — nods and visual gags like the infamous It's a Small World ride being a portal to the Tomorrowland dimension, or the presence of evil, corporate-looking "audio animatronics" with toothpaste grins. There's a wonderful scene early on with Keegan-Michael Key as the proprietor of a nerd paraphernalia store, complete with Star Wars toys and '60s sci-fi junk, where, of course, there's an epic laser gun battle. There's a lot of fun to be had in Tomorrowland, when it isn't proselytizing a little too obviously.
It's also a beautiful film. Tomorrowland itself looks like a living, breathing version of the space-age-meets-retro-future vision of funky '60s space travel imagined in the Disneyland parks. It's gleaming and silver and smiling and multicultural. Citizens travel by jetpack and air car, and it's impossible not to be impressed by the visual flair on display. Even though the future world looks clean and bright, it's also warm and inviting.
But Tomorrowland sadly loses a bit of steam by the final act, and I found myself rolling my eyes at the film's denouement. Maybe I didn't get my proper dose of pixie dust that day, but I wasn't feeling the Disney magic enough to believe some of the ending antics. It's all a little too clean, a little too on-the-nose and black and white.
But for families and those who want badly enough to believe in a beautiful future, Tomorrowland is a sugary slice of escapism.