With the 2015 summer movie season coming to an end, we take the time to look back on what worked and what didn't. One of the more polarizing films of the season was Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, pushing an even spilt of 50% on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. Even though it topped the #1 spot in its opening weekend, the box office numbers suffered in the long run, earning about $205 million against a generous budget of $190 million. Putting marketing costs into account, Disney lost about $78 million, making it this summers Lone Ranger.
To the films defense, I think Tomorrowland's critical and financial beating was unjustified. Even though it bombed, I'll go as far to say it was one of the best movies of the summer. Here below are my reasons for why Tomorrowland doesn't suck.
The Talented Cast
Our main character Casey Newton is played by the wonderful Britt Robertson. She's an adventurous lively spirit, holding her own ground against heavyweight costar George Clooney and the rest of her talented cast. In a time where male leads dominate the box office, it's nice to see strong female characters that aren't just from YA novel adaptions. Then there's the standout of the year, Raffey Cassidy, giving a performance beyond her years as a little girl Athena with a big secret. Another small but worthy performance is Casey's little brother Pierce Gagnon, who you might recognize from Looper. Then of course there's Clooney who perfectly fits the part, essentially an ambitious youngster trapped in the body of a cranky aged man. He makes a great foil against Hugh Laurie's villainous David Nix, who also has a lot of fun with his character. Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele fame and TV favorite Judy Greer make small yet memorable appearances, so make sure to look out for them.
The Visionary Director
Brad Bird has proven again and again that he's one of the 21st centuries best directors. His animations The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille have been highly acclaimed, with his live action debut Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol considered by many as the best in that series. Seeking original ideas, he gave up his chance to direct the highly anticipated Star Wars The Force Awakens in favor of a science fiction project Tomorrowland. Bird stated, "It's rare to do a film of size that's original, so those opportunities can't be missed either." The film combines the best elements of Birds work. Scenes are filled with a sense of awe-inspiring child-like wonder, all moving at a steady pace and shot beautifully. Casey's first big introduction to the world of Tomorrowland is a continuos shot that keeps your eyes fixated of Bird's imaginative and dazzling world, moving from one feat to the next. Never once does the film drag, or have a scene that seems out of place. The is the very film Bird wants you to not just see, but to experience, as you are immersed in his vision.
A Timeless Story
The central story was developed from Bird himself and co-writer Damon Lindelof , known for works such as Lost, Cowboys and Aliens, Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness, and World War Z. Teenager Casey Newton comes in possession of a pin which gives her a glimpse at the dazzling world of Tomorrowland. Seeking a way to get there, she ventures out to discover the mystery of the pin, and the very world it transports her to. At the heart of this story are Walt Disney's own visions of a future utopia, also realized in one of his theme parks EPCOT, The Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, and a section of DisneyWorld called Tomorrowland(look out for Space Mountain!) These ideas give the story an old fashioned magical Disney film feel, emulating the tone of movies like The Black Hole, Tron, The Rocketeer, and even other non-disney science fiction films. A scene taking place in a comic book store houses a plethora of nostalgic surprises that anyone can recognize. There's also many touching emotional moments between the character, many centering around Clooney and Cassidy's characters. Because the cast does so well, you can follow them on their journey while sympathizing with their challenges and struggles, thus providing a connection with the audience.
Special Effects, Production Design, and Music
Futuristic worlds usually require vast amounts of effects work to bring the vision to life. The arts at ILM outdid themselves, and each shot looks as photorealistic as it can be. Even a simple effect such as the "pin-touch" is seamless and believable. Another aspect is the production design. The look and feel of Tomorrowland is very "Disney", reminding you what people in Walt Disney's time envisioned the future to be. It has a "Worlds Fair" feel to it, as is emphasized in the opening sequence. There's also many similarities to Disney films and amusement park attractions. Casey's first look at the distant city mirrors the appearence of Cinderella's castle, Athena's costume is very similar to Wendy's from Peter Pan, and monorails are served as transports throughout the city, just like they are at DisneyWorld. The musical score by Michael Giacchino(A frequent Bird collaborator) is another standout, composing a catchy tunes that he interweaves throughout the whole soundtrack (Keep your eyes out for the composers cameo at the Worlds Fair!). Many of Giacchino's track titles are subtle in-jokes which include "You've Piqued My Pin-Trist", "Boat Wait, There's More!", and "Edge of Tomorrowland" (a nod to last years sci-fi flick Edge of Tomorrow).
Fun for Everyone!
A film like this summers Minions caters specifically to a very young audience; whereas no matter how old you are, Tomorrowland always has something to offer. There's in-jokes and nostalgic references for the adults, action for the teens, and the old fashioned Disney charm to please the kiddies. The opening scene alone sets the tone for the entire film. You see George Clooney's character as a young boy entering the 1964 New York World Fair. While viewing the scene in the theater, I remember hearing an old couple chuckle in the back as Disney World's Carousel of Progress tune, "It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", echoed the theater; the entire audience embraced a young boys boat trip on the "It's a Small World" ride (who doesn't know that song?). The film is accessible to a wide audience, and doesn't alienate others at the same time. There something for everyone to enjoy!
A Wonderful Message
The best Disney movies leave a lasting message. Pixar's Wall-E warned the dangers of pollution, and Birds own Incredibles emphasized the importance of family. The theme of this film comes not from the director or writer, but from Disney himself. Walt Disney was an artist, a family man, and most importantly, a dreamer. Its because of dreams that Disney is what it is today. Tomorrowland presents a world where people have lost touch with reality, and magic in the world seems to have vanished. By inspiring kids that it's ok to dream, and dream big, it helps immortalize Disney's legacy. The final minutes of Tomorrowland have a wonderful magical feel that only a Disney movie can provide. If the man were still alive, I think he would've loved this movie. I wouldn't have been surprised if he made it himself.
You may have seen Tomorrowland and been disappointed by it, and I'm sorry if you felt that way. Despite how you felt, you should at least appreciate the love and effort these filmmakers invested into this project. And if you haven't seen it, give it a watch! See what Tomorrowland's all about! You wanna go? Touch the pin.