Disney's new “Tomorrowland” movie just too much fantasy for most
Very few of us have confidence in an Arcadian future. Nowhere is this more evident than in the stories we tell. Dystopian novels and films have become leading visions—look no further than last weekend’s most popular film “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The film paints a picture of a brutal and dying world. There is little hope.
The same can be said of popular television. “The Walking Dead” is unapologetically bleak and fans tune in mostly to see which character will meet their demise, be it at the hands of lumbering corpses or by the sword of a deranged survivor. Happiness and wonder are in short supply when we examine the march of time.
“Tomorrowland” is a film that wishes to combat this trend. Here is an imagination of the future as something incredible and clean, full of wondrous technology and brilliant people. It is everything promised by mid-20th century futurism, a vision promoted by Walt Disney and his California and Florida theme parks. Of course, looking back now, many of these ideas are laughable. But the fanciful optimism of a world of leisure and innovation can be easily understood given the economic conditions of a Baby Boomer childhood. This optimism was ripped away by Vietnam and Nixon and it has eroded ever since.
If “Tomorrowland” could succeed as the inspirational film it hopes to be, it would be a monumental film. But, unfortunately, the overall message of positive thinking is short-sighted at best and hopelessly naïve at worst.
It begins at the 1964 World’s Fair. A young Frank Walker hopes to win $50 for his non-working jet pack. The judges are less than impressed, but Frank attracts the attention of a mysterious young girl who gives him a pin that is the key to another dimension. This dimension has been populated by the best and brightest of our world, who have for generations been creating a utopia of technological achievement. Soon, they will unveil their creation and invite the world to take part in their experiment.
Fast forward 51 years. The invitation never came to pass. The world has descended into a joyless mess of doom and gloom, with 24-hour news networks broadcasting constant visions of wars and rumors of wars. A young Florida State student named Casey attends classes where every professor offers a variation on the same theme: The world is disintegrating and can only get worse. Casey is eternally optimistic. She feeds the wolf of positivity and continually asks, “How can we fix it?” And this is the major theme of the film, which is hammered home at every turn. The world can be saved if we change how we think about it.
This is not a bad message at all, in and of itself. However, as the film unfolds, the repetition of the power of positive thinking begins to be especially grating, as it largely ignores reality. The world as we know it faces enormous problems, not because the majority of people think negatively, but because by and large we are in competition with ourselves for a finite amount of resources. A large portion of these resources are controlled by a very small number of people, who refuse to equitably share the wealth. Adding to this are significant differences in cultures and values, tribal thinking, and survival instincts, which create a complex system of social problems that have to be addressed before most are even capable of thinking positively. This explanation is, of course, overly simplified, but still more complex than the ideas on display in “Tomorrowland.”
I assume Damon Lindeloff had months to write his script; however, deep thought has never been his trademark. A new world created by the best and brightest will still have struggles that mirror our own. Class structures invariably appear even in the most controlled environments and are not so easily dismissed. Someone has to sweep the streets, clean the toilets, and collect the garbage. But the politics of “Tomorrowland” are virtually ignored. What’s left is a thin story with clichéd characters that lacks any emotional resonance.
This film looks wonderful—the scenes at the beginning where we get our first look at the world of the future are stunning and awe-inspiring. It is CGI spectacle at its best. The performances are adequate for what they are and George Clooney continues to out-handsome everyone in his immediate vicinity. Perhaps if I had entered the theater with a more positive attitude, I would have enjoyed myself.
But I doubt it.