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Review: ‘Tomorrowland’ full of laughs, sci-fi hijinks

Tom Long
The Detroit News

‘Tomorrowland” is a wonder.

As a film, it’s filled with the sort of laughs and action and sci-fi hijinks guaranteed to keep frothy summer minds glued to the screen.

And yet at the same time, it occupies moral high ground and is as brutally honest as any popcorn film in memory. It confronts things we as a people, a nation, a species, don’t want to confront. And that’s the point.

As a Disney movie, it inevitably sides with the positive. What else would Mickey do? But it brings the hammer and poses big, difficult and disturbing questions. Beyond that, it dares not to offer up superheroes as answers. It offers only ... us.

Now, as to what “Tomorrowland” is actually about. Well, that’s kind of tough.

Casey (Britt Robertson) is a teen girl who’s something of an engineering wiz, which isn’t surprising since her dad (Tim McGraw) works for NASA. She dreams of flying into space; unfortunately, federal budget cuts have the rocket launching pad at Cape Canaveral, where they live, being torn down.

But then Casey comes into possession of a tiny pin with the letter T on it. Whenever she touches it, her mind is transported to some futuristic city where hovercraft shoot about and people swim in pools suspended in air, and rockets regularly take trips to destinations light years away.

Unfortunately, Casey soon finds out that her magic pin draws dangerous people who try to kill her for having it. Just as she’s being targeted, a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy, just try to forget her), appears and turns out to be a fighting machine. She helps Casey escape and drives her to the home of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a recluse who once had a pin of his own.

Athena thinks Casey has a gift, and it’s a gift that may, with Walker’s help, enable her to save that futuristic utopia, Tomorrowland, and her own besieged Mother Earth.

Going past there, in terms of plot, would be criminal. There are too many surprises in this movie to undermine. Suffice it to say the script by “Lost” alum Damon Lindelof, director Brad Bird and Jeff Jensen, pits hope and optimism — and work — against despair and doom. Despair is embodied in the leader of Tomorrowland, the appropriately named Nix (Hugh Laurie); hope, energy and innovation is what Casey brings to the party.

The thing is, Nix — especially in a summarizing monologue — makes a scary amount of sense. This is a world in which obesity and starvation are epidemic. What does that say about things? Our government is paralyzed, society is split, religious wars abound and nuclear proliferation and climate change are all but ignored by those in power.

Which sounds like dark stuff, and it certainly is. But director Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”) is such a master of momentum, and has such a way with gadgetry that the film’s two-plus hours whiz by, with elements of “The Terminator,” “Hugo,” “The Rocketeer” “The Wizard of Oz” and countless other films flashing past. He’s tackling serious subject matter in a fun way; when does that happen?

“Tomorrowland” is rated PG, but it will likely fly right over kids younger than age 8. For anyone older, though — and this includes you, parents and grandparents — this should be required viewing. Come for the humor and thrills and visual delights — there are many. Leave with the thought in your head: We can, we need to, do better. This is summer moviemaking at its best.





Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements, and language

Running time: 130 minutes