Tomorrowland: Potential Lost In Disney

Disney has enjoyed a ridiculous amount of success due to the Marvel movie franchises, and will continue that success with the upcoming Star Wars movie. However, their own properties can’t seem to catch a break. The Lone Ranger was laughably atrocious, John Carter is now just a distant memory, and nobody was craving for any more Pirates of the Caribbean movies after the first one.

However, Tomorrowland had promise to it. It looked like a fun science fiction adventure movie that had a surprising amount of action to it. And with the famed Brad Bird behind in the director’s chair the anticipation was hard to ignore. This could theoretically kick off a cinematic universe owned by Disney, or at the very least prove that making a movie based off a theme park isn’t the worst idea in the world.

However, after it’s release, critics slammed Tomorrowland. Which was sad to read, because Brad Bird’s name is synonymous with great films like Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant. To see him get a poor mark on his near flawless film career was disappointing, considering Bird was trying to do something really different with Tomorrowland.

King Felix wrote a great review of the movie for Monkeys Fighting Robots which you should totally read. In the review Felix mentions that the movie wasn’t that strong, because the movie seemed to be fighting itself. It never really knows what it wants to be. This leads to a question that needs to be asked: Why can’t Disney seem to make a great live action movie? It seemed like they were banking that Tomorrowland was going to be their next big blockbuster. But, it’s not what they were hoping it was going to be.

Tomorrowland’s problems stem from the uneven pacing that clashes against the fun action film Disney was marketing it as. There’s a framing device in place that kills the story’s tension. A poorly set up villain comes in at the last-minute to take responsibility for all the issues brought up in the movie. And finally there is a little girl robot that hijacks the story to absurdity.

The movie focuses on a young woman trying to find the fabled “Tomorrowland” where scientists were free from politics, war, and oppression. This leads to a world with technology that nobody has seen before. And of course our main hero, Casey Newton, wants to find it for the good of technology and humanity. She teams up with a crotchety, George Clooney to fight off robots that are pursuing her and find the world that she’s determined to see no matter what. As she believes it can help fix the earth now.

All of that sounds like this was going to be an hour and a half adventure movie. And it easily could have been. The film should have maintained a focus on action and excitement rather than build a complex narrative that has severe pacing issues. (The first twenty minutes feel like a short film that was hastily tacked on to extend the run time). It would have been simpler to just make it a fun good vs. evil action movie, but they decided to make it a commentary on cynicism toward the environment, politics, and state of the world. Now that’s certainly admirable, but that’s also a harder sell for a general audience.

However, this harder sale makes Tomorrowland stand out; Brad Bird shows a lot of love and care for the concept, by crafting a great world, and giving us really fun characters to watch. The film feels like the Disney executives were worried that it would be too difficult for younger audiences to understand. Now, with all that being said, there are some positives this movie has. It’s so easy to focus on the negative reviews that it’s easy to forget that even the worst movies can have some redeemable qualities. Tomorrowland did have a lot of great elements to it that could have saved the movie.

It’s hard to ignore the potential this film had. While there is an environmentalist message, it’s not overwhelming or distracting. The visual effects are not only fun but also really intriguing to watch, there is some immense creativity not seen in most blockbusters. The action is surprisingly well choreographed and imaginative. Britt Robertson is a fun lead, and George Clooney provides some fantastic chemistry.

Keegan Michael-Key looked like he was having a blast.

The best potential in this movie actually comes from the underlying message of optimism vs. pessimism. After films like San Andreas, Mad Max, and even Avengers: Age of Ultron have such negative themes; it’s great to see a movie that does have an upbeat look at the future. It could be considered naive, but perhaps more movies do need to explore the positive side of the future, and where the world is heading.

However, in quite possibly the most brilliant display of irony, the Tomorrowland’s villain perfectly describes why audiences won’t take to this movie. It’s not negative enough. It’s harder to get an audience interested in an upbeat adventure romp these days when the darker, negative movie sells better. And that sadly is what this all boils down to: how much of a budget will this movie make?

It’s disappointing to see that such a creative idea, and a genuinely positive message was condemned to the wasteland of forgetful Disney live action films. Perhaps Disney has just fully accepted that it’s easier to leech off other properties like Marvel and Star Wars than work with their own. Which is a cynicism that perfectly deflects the upbeat optimism Tomorrowland was striving to inspire the viewers with.

Nick Enquist
Nick Enquist
Nick Enquist writes opinion pieces and reviews of comic books, movies, and TV shows for Monkeys Fighting Robots.