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Family Movie Review: Tomorrowland (PG)

Tomorrowland ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 130 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. The film is rated PG, but it has a surprising amount of violence for a film aimed at a young audience. Guns are used to vaporize into nothingness various characters; a human is crushed by various falling objects; robots are beaten, crushed, shot at, and burned; there’s a creepy scene with a robot skull still talking and working after being detached from its body. Also the implication of cursing (phrases like “son of a!”) are used, as well as a lightly romantic subplot including an unrequited crush by one child on another. Also, one of the major ideas is whether the end of the world is coming, so that’s kind of dark.

‘Tomorrowland’ often feels like more of a commercial for Disney parks than a movie in its own right, but there’s an energy to the film that will enthrall. If only its themes about human worth weren’t so problematic.

By Roxana Hadadi

“This is a story about the future, and the future can be scary,” says Frank Walker (George Clooney, of “The Monuments Men”) in the opening scene of “Tomorrowland.” That future, with its rocket ships, hovering subway, strange outfits, and other technological innovations is the best, most ingenious part of the film, along with its smart and strong female characters. But the message of the film, which implies that the best things should only be for the best people (“geniuses, artists, scientists”), is undeniably elitist.

We’ve seen messages like this before, the kind of themes that trace back to novelist Ayn Rand and her famous works including “The Fountainhead,” and “Tomorrowland” director Brad Bird works with them often. Think of his Pixar film “The Incredibles,” which was about a family of superheroes forced to deny themselves because of the crass and ill-advised judgment of “regular” people, and you’ll understand his ideology. For children, “Tomorrowland” will be exciting – if nothing else, the visuals are often beautiful – but the theme of inherent betterness by some people over others might not sit well.

All of this comes from a movie that is essentially a veiled commercial for Disney theme parks, because “Tomorrowland” is basically an application of the original idea for EPCOT – the abbreviation stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” – but on a grander scale. The film jumps between two periods, focusing on two different characters: in the past, on a young Frank Walker (the adorably open-faced Thomas Robinson, of “The Switch”) who visits the 1964 World’s Fair with an invention of his own making; and in the present, on the teenage Casey (Britt Robertson, of “The Longest Ride”), who can fix practically anything with the explanation “I know how things work.”

Young Frank had an abusive father who rejected his inventions; Casey has a NASA engineer father who she adores and encourages her, but who is losing his job as funding for space exploration runs out. Both Frank and Casey are looking for something – some sign that the future will be a better place – and they each find it in the form of a small pin with a bright orange and blue T emblazoned on it, which when they touch it transports them into the world of the future: the world of Tomorrowland. The pins are given to them by the young girl Athena (Raffey Cassidy, of “Snow White and the Huntsman”), whose precociousness and ability to throw a punch come in quite handy.

What Frank does in Tomorrowland that causes him to grow up into the aimless, paranoid, frustrated adult Frank (played by Clooney) eventually connects him with Casey, who is desperate to visit Tomorrowland for real. Although their aims are different, they become linked together by the robot assassins searching for them, and so the film becomes a race against time – not only for their own safety, but also for the promise of Tomorrowland and humanity itself. Can they fix it? And, more importantly, do they want to?

From the beginning, the film offers thrills: There are numerous chase scenes; the imagining of Tomorrowland is beautiful, and we experience the same excitement Casey does when she walks through it for the first time; and the chemistry between Clooney, Robertson, and Cassidy is excellent. Clooney’s comic timing hasn’t skipped a beat, Robertson can more than hold her own, and the extremely talented Cassidy will obviously one day be a big star; overall, the trio makes a convincing group. But the film skips necessary character development in its furtherance of the idea that some people just have “it” – intelligence, cleverness, smarts, resourcefulness, etc. – and other people don’t, and that remains problematic. Is Tomorrowland really that wonderful of a place if it was inherently designed for exclusion? Discussions with young viewers about human worth and creative power would be worthwhile after “Tomorrowland,” after the buzz from all the jetpacks and robots and spaceships wears off.

To call the film a simplified and cheery version of last year’s “Interstellar” wouldn’t be off base, because both that film and this one focus on the future, space travel, and humanity. But “Tomorrowland’s” sense of fun and optimism make it a clearer family choice, and although it suffers from an elitism problem, its adventure and energy are worthwhile.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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