A Review of Tomorrowland by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, Three Reels
Like the vast revolving jet ride from the attraction that inspired it, Tomorrowland feels a bit uneven, disjointed, and even a contradiction in terms. It’s a kid flick but relies heavily on nostalgia. The story is pretty dumb and at times naïve, but because it’s helmed by Brad Bird with his top notch crew, it’s very well written and thoroughly enjoyable. This strange contraption is fun and silly but like one of its central characters is still in search of something more.
Tomorrowland is Interstellar for tweens. Teenage something Casey (Britt Robertson) is a whiz kid with a NASA engineer for a dad who wants to use science to change the world for the better but is constantly told the destruction of civilization is inevitable. After leaving prison for sabotaging the demolition of a shuttle launch pad, she receives a mysterious pin that transports her to futuristic world when she touches it. This amazing place called “Tomorrowland” is filled with jet packs, anti-gravity swimming pools, and chocolate milkshakes that provide endless youth – a good culinary choice for immortality. When the pin stops working, she goes searching for another route only to find deadly robots bent on her destruction until she is rescued by Athena (Raffey Cassidy) – also a deadly robot but this one wants to help her return to Tomorrowland. Cassidy’s performance is the hidden gem in an otherwise okay movie. She is serious yet sentimental, intense yet relaxed and at only twelve holds her own against – and at times surpasses – the acting of George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Athena brings Casey to retired inventor Frank Walker (Clooney), an exile who knows the way back. When these three companions finally make it, they discover that this new world has no real concern for the problems of tomorrow and may be making things even worse.
There’s gleeful spirit in Tomorrowland that captures perfectly the eight year old seeing the wonders of baking soda and vinegar mixing for the first time. It’s fun to make up neat gadgets and figure out how things work. As a child, Frank brought a prototype jet pack to the 1964 World’s Fair – which also saw the premiere of another infamous Disney ride. The judge quickly dismisses his idea. “It doesn’t work,” he mumbles. “Can’t it just be cool?” Frank replies. The judge has a point – science should be at the service of mankind, making it easier for people to receive the goods and services needed for a fulfilling life. Yet science is also beautiful in its own right as an example of God’s aesthetic omniscience. The medieval philosophers who gave birth to the modern scientific industry understood this. They were mostly clerics who tried to figure out the movement of the stars or the variations on pea pods simply because it was interesting. Isaac Newton invented Calculus simply to answer a question about the shape of cones. It didn’t help the crops grow faster – it was just fun.
This utopia that Tomorrowland appears to be in the first half of the film quickly becomes a dystopia after Frank, Casey, and Athena arrive. Rather than being brave enough to solve the problems of the world, the residents are simply watching the clock run down safely from a distance. Bird clearly illustrates that the problem isn’t science but humanity. What needs fixing is hearts. The solution Casey concocts is, frankly, pretty cheesy, amounting to the recreation of a famous Coke commercial from the 1970s. However, she does channel an important human virtue: hope. “There are two wolves,” she explains. “One is darkness. The other is light. Which one wins? The one you feed.” Science can be a medium of hope, but it comes from believing in good over evil.
There’s a gentle sadness that casts a shadow over Tomorrowland. It thinks that humanity is at a tipping point where things could go south very quickly. Without giving into despair, there’s a measure of truth to this. Never at any point in human history has the consequences of any given action been so immediate. A single rash comment made online can instantly ruin a reputation. A single bomb has the potential to kill hundreds of thousands of people. “How do we fix it?” This question is asked constantly in the film, but it misses the answer. The solution is Jesus. He already “fixed it” in the Pascal Mystery. If man directs his worship and morality towards Him, his science will be effective and peace will come. Maybe not in this life, but certainly in the next. That is a tomorrow worth hoping for.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on May 25th, 2015.