Review: “Tomorrowland” perfectly channels Walt Disney’s philosophy and spirit

| May 17, 2015 | 7 Replies

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Tomorrowland Rating: 4.5

Disney’s theme park adaptations have a record for being hit or miss, especially in the eyes of the most die-hard Disney fans. With the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, most of the attraction-based films have been mediocre to awful. Loyal Disney fans will sit through The Haunted Mansion or The Country Bears, but in the back of our minds we really wish both of those atrocities would’ve never seen the light of day. Luckily, Tomorrowland was put in the hands of the right people and is a true Disney success.

Tomorrowland, directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) and written by Bird and Damon Lindelof (Lost), tells the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an optimistic young woman recruited to be a part of Tomorrowland, a secret city built by the world’s greatest dreamers, artists, scientists, mathematicians and thinkers, and Frank Walker (George Clooney), a man who helped shape Tomorrowland and was left exiled from the utopian city. Casey’s bright outlook of the future and Frank’s knowledge of Tomorrowland bring them together to help try and save the world from the imminent end of days.

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When Tomorrowland was first announced in 2012, most fans expected it to never get made and join the list of dead projects including Disney’s Jungle Cruise adaptation and Guillermo del Toro’s Haunted Mansion reboot (which may finally happen). However, those sentiments started to turn around when Bird posted a cryptic photo of an old Imagineering box on Twitter labeled 1952.

Later, The Optimist alternate reality interactive scavenger hunt game popped up on Disney fan’s radar, which led participants from reading a strange blog to looking for clues left behind by Walt Disney, Thomas Edison and more inside Disneyland and Southern California. The Optimist ended at D23 with a Tomorrowland presentation by Bird and Lindelof, as well as an exhibit on the show room floor, but the most important thing to take away was that Tomorrowland was actually happening.

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Optimism. Inspiration. Imagination. These words best describe the movie Tomorrowland and accurately represent Walt Disney’s ideals and philosophy and make this potentially the best Disney theme park adaptation yet. Pirates of the Caribbean is a great action-adventure comedy, which blended an original story with subtle but noticeable attraction references to set a benchmark for what a theme park adaptation should be.

Then, The Haunted Mansion came along and tried to do the opposite, focusing on packing in as many references and nods to the classic attraction instead of focusing on story, which is something Walt Disney Imagineering prides itself on when building attractions. Also, the horrendous acting doesn’t help very much. But, Tomorrowland succeeds in ditching the visual cues and choosing to focus on the meaning behind the theme park element.

Tomorrowland was unique from the onset, because it is the first adaptation to be based on a Disney land instead of a specific attraction, which means sacrificing some of those little nods. Sure, there is a clearly visible Space Mountain in Tomorrowland and the use of Audio Animatronics, but beyond that the movie would rather focus its attention on the vision behind why Walt would even want to build a Tomorrowland or an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

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The movie embodies our expectations for Tomorrowland. We want Tomorrowland in the parks and the movie to be a gleaming, symbol of what the future can hold for us when we put our minds together and accomplish great things, but it even shows us a Tomorrowland that is better in theory than reality, which seems like a small wink towards Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

Despite the positive purpose behind creating a better world for the future, Tomorrowland doesn’t tiptoe around its doomsday premise in any way, which could be frightening or disturbing to younger children. But out of the dark comes a world of hope and a ton of humor. The best part about the movie might actually be the humor. Casting comedians Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key helped add a small bit of comic relief, but Britt Robertson, George Clooney and up-and-coming actress Raffey Cassidy really hold their own when making the jokes land.

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Before sounding too much like a Disney fanboy, it needs to be said that Tomorrowland is in no way a perfect movie. In fact, a lot of non-Disney fans won’t connect to the Disney philosophy that runs so deep through the veins of the film and will probably see it as a standard science fiction film with unanswered questions and cheesiness. However, you can tell that Bird, Lindelof and the cast accepted that there would be a cheesiness factor to the movie and chose to embrace it instead of downplaying it.

Also, the first act seemed to drag on a bit too long. Despite some of the best scenes occurring in the first forty minutes, specifically the beautiful recreation of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, a tighter cut could’ve helped the pacing of the entire movie. It could even be argued that too much of the movie is spent trying to get to Tomorrowland, leaving a sense of disappointment when so little is shown after finally getting there. For these reasons, as a movie fan alone I’d probably give Tomorrowland a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.

That being said, I didn’t go into Tomorrowland as a movie fan, but instead I went into it as an excited Disney fan to see how a great team could pull together a full-length movie based on one of the weakest sections of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom and I was completely blown away. The visual world created was enough to be excited, but the Disney essence captured in Tomorrowland made the film extremely special for those of us who live daily with that Disney mindset.

If this movie is not a huge box office and critical success, I don’t think Disney will mind too much. Every once in awhile Disney does something specifically for its fans and this movie is a perfect example of that. We will understand and appreciate it the most and will continue to watch it multiple times to catch more of the little secrets and connect with the moments that best showcase that Disney philosophy.



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Category: Entertainment, TV / Movies

  • August “Gus” Greenwell

    Thanks for your review Craig. After seeing the trailers and then the preview and exhibit yesterday at DL, I was thinking that I probably shouldn’t go to see Tomorrowland with my “Disney goggles” on and save myself some disappointment. After reading your review, I’m pretty exited to see it but I will keep my “goggles” and top of my head just in case. The future and Worlds Fair scenes are amazing, and ever since I was a kid I had suspicion there was more to Small World than meets the eye…..hmmmm? Thanks again.

  • Alice West

    Glad you liked it Craig, I, too am reserving judgment. LOL, sorry I wasted way too much money on the current Disney live action block-flops. I’ll wait to see what the rest of the reviews say. I think we are way to close to the ‘action” to be even remotely considered objective

  • tennismastery

    As creator and co-author of the “Hidden Mickey” mystery novels, I am thrilled to anticipate such a sizable production that embraces the same idea of our “Hidden Mickey” novels…leaving clues behind, (by Walt Disney), that initiates a clandestine hunt to find something of significance! Williams references the ‘scavenger hunt’ that culminates at D23. We, of course, wrote Hidden Mickey years before this but love the idea and the use of such a way to draw people into the world of Walt! Thank you, Craig, for a solid review. Well done!

  • Tiffany Pilon

    Thanks for giving a nod to us loyal fans who have indeed suffered through watching Haunted Mansion and Country Bear Jamboree. It was a labor of love and sheer duty.

  • Tom Caselli

    I don’t understand why people are so negative toward The Haunted Mansion. I enjoyed it a lot. The Country Bears, that is something completely different. That is a movie that should have never been made. Tomorrowland I have wanted to see since I saw the first trailer.

  • Jenni Sizemore

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said, Craig. You captured my thoughts on the movie perfectly.

  • KWelch

    I kind of disagree with you on “too much of the movie is spent trying to get to Tomorrowland,” as we got the tour upfront with Casey’s Pin-Ultimate experience at the beginning of the movie. The real lesson is that Tomorrowland is a journey not a destination.