TomorrowlandDisney as cult is not a new concept. The Corporation would never choose such a descriptor, but neither has it ever shied away from behavior that justifies the label. Walt Disney saw his company as the landscapers of the future, the architects of the social engineering that would lead us into a brave, new world that simultaneously held the small town values of a past that never existed with a technology-solves-everything, squeaky clean and dazzlingly white future that could be ours if we purged ourselves of our baser vulgarities.

EPCOT was not imagined as a complementary theme park to the adjacent Disney World. EPCOT stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt imagined houses and hospitals, stores and schools, but Walt died, leaving behind a corporate board of accountants rather than visionaries. They opened a theme park, and all that’s left of the original idea is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority used to enter the facility.

Yet, the idea of a better tomorrow, as conceived, planned, packaged, and delivered to you by Disney, remained in the corporate DNA. Celebration, Florida was launched in the 1990’s. Here was an updated version of the idea that never came to fruition. Gone was any overt tie to the amusement park concept other than geographic proximity. In its place was the notion of home ownership equaling the American Dream as articulated in It’s A Wonderful Life, complete with the Bedford Falls wholesomeness. Celebration turned out to be simply another planned community, but that should not be interpreted as failure. Celebration was simply one phase in an ongoing process toward the ultimate goal.

Tomorrowland gives us a glimpse of the blueprint of that goal, while showing us the necessity for getting on board the most important ride in the park. The implicit threat that if we turn away from Walt and continue down the path we are on, the world will fail, has always been there. The danger becomes explicit in the new propaganda dispatch from HQ. The world will end in 60 days unless children can convince their parents to take them to a Disney facility and to essentially reside there for the rest of their lives.

Disney is desperate. Tomorrowland is the latest attempt to perform economic alchemy: the company is trying to monetize a revenue stream. Its movies are about the parks, each product meant to reinforce the viability of the other, but this approach has devolved to the hungry snake swallowing its tail. Disney as an entertainment company has forgotten how to be entertaining. Scoff all you want. Cite the stock price, attendance figures, and box office. Claim it as a global cultural icon. There’s a one-word answer to the presumption that Disney will never die: McDonald’s.

The future sucks, and the present blows in Tomorrowland. But, damn, the past was terrific. My God, it was clean, and the people were beautiful (and white) and polite (and white) and well dressed (and white). Diversity was limited to the British, and there was only a few of them, and, hell, they were whiter than us! The past was the 1964 New York World’s Fair tucked away in a corner of the 1955 original Disneyland. Back then, the future was Disney World with jet packs or, as imagined by the special effects personnel involved in the film, Dubai.

Tomorrowland has a certain charm at the outset as we are introduced to young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) who builds a jet pack, goes to the World’s Fair, ends up in the future, and falls in love with a robot girl. That’s a hellavu story right there – that’s what this one would have/could have/should have been limited to. Director Brad Bird has his best moments in the early going. He somehow finds a retro feel that’s reminiscent of the late 50’s and early 60’s Disney films like Flubber and The Shaggy Dog.

But the past really is just prologue here. An evil presence lurks who threatens to destroy our bright and shining future and to reduce our hope to a muddled haze of fog, confusion, ill temper, and unsatisfying conclusions. This evil has a name.

Damon Lindelof.

Lindelof shows that he is equally inept at entertainment aimed at all ages as he has proven to be in more adult fare. He now is the proud owner of a trilogy of screenwriting disappointments: the Lost finale, Prometheus, and Tomorrowland. This guy could blow up a Death Star all by himself, using just his laptop, if they ever let him near a Star Wars movie. Star Wars? Did somebody say Star Wars? In case you’ve forgotten that Disney bought that property for four billion dollars, they are happy to remind you of it. There are completely gratuitous references to the franchise in Tomorrowland. You weren’t afraid of what Disney might do to the property? Take it from Yoda: “You will be.”

So little Frank Walker grows up, which is doubly unfortunate, because we lose the kid and get George Clooney as big Frank Walker. Clooney is a professional celebrity. He doesn’t act. He appeals. The difference between his worst performance and his best performance is indistinguishable. He is a Japanese whiskey ad brought to life and propped up in front of a camera. His defining role is Danny Ocean, a con man and thief without guile or edge who looks great in a tux and a smirk. George isn’t wearing a tux here, and he’s not smirking, and he’s not very appealing.

Walker was banished from the future. The robot girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), was also banished. Shockingly, the script is less than crystal clear about why (Lindelhof’s original version probably clocked in at over four hours, necessitating some cuts), but it might be because the future went to hell in a jet-powered handbasket after little Frank built a machine that told everyone that the future was going to hell.

Tomorrowland, at this point, reverts to the tried and true Young Adult plot device that every child is a messiah. The special one here is Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), but the only thing truly special about Casey is that she manages to remain unredemptively annoying for over two hours. Only she can save the world, however, because she bears a slight resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence and is good at sabotaging construction site equipment. Oh, and she only has one parent, which has become a perverse prerequisite for our savior.

So, we have to get – wait for it – Back to the Future!!! And, dear God, this one could use Christopher Lloyd. Instead we get Hugh Laurie, sporting the haunted look of a man on his first day out of rehab and affecting the worst British accent ever, especially considering that he’s British. Laurie is Nix, that’s Governor Nix to you, leader of the future and commander of a robot army whose mission is to…er, um, just a sec, there’s a mission, there has to be. You can be sure of that. (Really, Lindelof, you couldn’t even manage to explain the frigging robot death squads?)

Laurie gives an extended monologue that is meant to explain what it’s all about – the movie, the universe, and the future. It would be unfair to say the speech kills the film. The movie is long dead by then. Laurie merely delivers the eulogy over its decaying husk. But there’s always hope, right? That’s what the movie is telling us, isn’t it? For example, we can hope that the Director’s Cut of Tomorrowland is 40 minutes shorter than the 130-minute theatrical version.

And as bad as everything is that precedes it, the ending is worse. We are treated to a Hillaryesque video of diversity: Leftist imagery coopted by Right Wing corporate entities in the service of fascism. The only winner here is Randy Moore, the writer and director of the brilliantly subversive, Escape from Tomorrow. Moore’s guerilla film, shot without permission inside Disney World and Disneyland, peeled back the curtain and showed the parks as a dystopian nightmare. If Tomorrowland is the company’s rebuttal, the win goes to Moore. Twenty years from now (or next year if there’s any justice), the two film films will play in a double bill at an independent cinema.

In the meantime, be assured that Tomorrowland is not dangerous. It is too inept in its messaging and too joyless to be a true threat. Nine-to-eleven year olds may be impressionable, but they are also demanding . Giving up two hours of quality online time in exchange for this meager and mostly boring offering is no deal at all.

 

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Comments
  1. I don’t agree….I loved it!

  2. adamlaredo says:

    Maybe the most awesome, insightful takedown of the House of Mouse I’ve ever read. Bravo.

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