Two things we need to get straight about the new Disney movie “Tomorrowland.” First, while George Clooney may be the star, he’s falling into that Fred MacMurray Disney tradition of adult star as guide and counsel to a young adventurer. Second, Tomorrowland isn’t and has never been the name of a Disneyland ride.
Tomorrowland is certainly a part of Disneyland. In 1955, when Tomorrowland opened Walt Disney said it would be about what Tomorrow offers: “new frontiers in science, adventure and ideals.” It was about the Atomic Age, and the challenge of Outer Space and the hope for a peaceful, unified world.
Tomorrowland is one of original themed lands of the Disneyland amusement park along with Mainstreet, USA; Adventureland; Frontierland and Fantasyland. New Orleans Square came later in July 1966, several months before Walt Disney died (December 1966).
Tomorrowland was destined to become outdated. The original attractions were Rocket to the Moon, Astro-Jets and Autopia and later Adventure Through Inner Space and the PeopleMover was added in 1967.
The Disney marketing machine has not gone into overdrive to market this film and there seem to be no plans to open any ride that would capitalize on the George Clooney-driven movie, “Tomorrowland.”
Fred MacMurray played a father in the 1959 “The Shaggy Dog” with Tommy Kirk as his son Wilby. Yet in “The Absent-Minded Professor,” he’s the titular character who has flunked basketball player Biff (Kirk).
Here, Clooney is the adult version of Frank Walker is a boy genius (Thomas Robinson plays young Frank) with a lot of gumption–enough to get on a bus by himself while hauling a large contraption to an inventors convention at the New York City World Fair in 1964. The contraption, a personal strap-on rocket jet pack,doesn’t work, but it could work and it could be an inspiration. That impresses a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who is taller and more mature than Frank and unusually calm in demeanor. Athena seems to be the daughter of the contest’s judge, David Nix (Hugh Laurie).
Seemingly infatuated by the young Frank, Athena gives him a special badge to Tomorrowland. When Frank enters the “It’s a Small World” ride alone in a ride car behind Athena and Nix, his badge is scanned and a secret passage way opens up taking him below the World Fair and into an incredible world of Tomorrowland.
What happens there ends up embittering the young Frank who becomes a hermit in a high-tech hideout until Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) mysteriously receives a Tomorrowland pin that causes her to see a world where a seat has been reserved for her. Newton’s dad Eddie is a rocket scientist (Tim McGraw) who is widowed and soon to be out of a job as the rocket launch platform is about to be dismantled. Casey has been sabotaging the dismantling and that’s the reason she ends up in jail. She does have a little brother, but he’s not really part of this adventure.
Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” as well as “Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol”) reaches back to his animation roots and gives us a rousing, fun but not too frightening family entertainment. Bird co-wrote the screenplay with Damon Lindelof (story by Bird, Lindeloff and Jeff Jensen) and includes touches of humor and nods to other Disney properties, particularly in the “Blast to the Past” sequence. What is really worth noting is that while the philosophical face-off is between two men, Frank and the unaged David (explained off by some kind of special elixir shake and not android memory implant), Athena is, true to her name, a wise warrior and Casey is also a doer although less martial arts trained.
Bird also sensitively plays the romantic element which could have been a bit icky.
There’s heartbreak here, but the overall feeling is one of hope for the future. The movie which visually incorporates Art Deco and retro Modern art styles as well as steampunk, also attempts to recapture Walt Disney’s 1950s optimism of the original Tomorrowland, despite the scientific disasters we are confronted with daily (global warming and domestic and foreign terrorism). You might not look at bathtubs the same way.
The truth is the world is in a bad state and we need optimists. We’ve lost those environmental visionaries like Jacques Yves-Cousteau and Joan Goodall won’t live forever. We need a new generation of bright young optimists and dreamers who believe that the world can be a better place. “Tomorrowland” gives girls a nod, something more than welcome in today’s world.