Title: Tomorrowland:A World Beyond
Director: Brad Bird
Major Players: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie
Out Of Five: 2.5
Just before Christmas, my dreaded internal antennae wobbled. Not that anybody could see them, but it was at Disney’s presentation on its films for 2015. I was optimistic about some, positively excited by others but there was one that got those antennae going. You’ll have guessed what it is.
Tomorrowland:A World Beyond has been kept under tight wraps until now, so here’s what the story is all about. Feisty teenager Casey (Britt Robertson) is a whizz at science who comes across a mysterious pin – badge to us Brits – which transports her to a different world, one where anything is possible. In the present day, the pin leads her to reclusive inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) to find out the truth about the world she’s experienced. He knows all about it because he went there as a boy – and there’s a young girl from the mysterious world to help them along their way.
There’s actually a lot more to the plot than that, including the World’s Fair of 1965 and how Casey came to have the pin in the first place, but I’m not going to give you a blow by blow commentary. But the fact that I’ve had to spend so much time on the story tells you that this is a long film. And that’s just one of its problems.
It’s 2 hours 10 minutes which, for a family film, is too long. OK, it’s a 12A certificate, so we’re not talking toddlers, but it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the younger members of the audience getting restless. They’ve simply put too much into the film: it doesn’t need such lengthy back stories for Casey and Frank and they complicate the film even further. Cue more fidgeting from the young teenagers. Mums, on the other hand, will be more than happy to see Clooney, even if he’s doing his grumpy schtick, complete with permanent stubble. And they probably won’t mind seeing Hugh Laurie either, as the closest the film has to a villain.
There’s a very definite feel of the 60s to the whole thing. That’s good and not-so-good. On the positive side, the re-creation of the World’s Fair in the mid-60s really captures the period with its garish colours and determined optimism. But when we get to Tomorrowland, futuristic though it is, it gives us a world in the future that’s still anchored in the 60s. Transport speeds around the sky with no apparent power and rockets take off vertically in a way that’s reminiscent of Thunderbirds. And, yes, I know they’re not Disney.
But the nub of the problem with Tomorrowland:A World Beyond stems the look of the city. Not only is it a futuristic version of the magic city from the Disney logo, it’s also based on Tomorrowland section of Disneyland in California, pins and all. A giant commercial for it, if you like. Using a theme park ride as the inspiration for a film is OK if you’re aiming for undemanding adventurous fun, a la Pirates Of The Caribbean. But if you’re looking to make something with ideas and science as well as action, you need something more – and something more original. Fundamentally, the way it’s been created is back to front and the feeling that you’re watching a massive ad makes it extremely hard to truly engage with what’s happening on the screen.
The reviews for the film so far have been varied – some four stars, others at the end of the spectrum. And it begs a question that a few years ago would have been unthinkable. Has George Clooney lost his magic touch? His last film, The Monuments Men, took a drubbing, both critically and at the box office, for being too long and fragmented. So far, it looks like he’s heading for another disappointment with this one, so he’ll be hoping that his next film stops the rot.
Tomorrowland:A World Beyond also looks like a blip for Disney in what still looks like being a landmark year, both in terms of the quality and quantity of its films. When you’ve got that many on your books in the space of twelve months, I guess you can afford a glitch – but when you’re Disney and your leading man is Clooney, there’s no hiding place.
Tomorrowland:A World Beyond is released on Friday, 22 May.