Tomorrowland indubitably suffered from marketing, mainly because it was touted as a sci-fi action movie and flashed teasing glimpses of a future Oz-like structure. I'm tempted also to say that Bird may have been hampered by Disney's production in giving us a watered-down version of his ideas in an attempt to make them more readily consumed...but then again, his work in previous "children" movies such as Iron Giant and Ratatouille exemplified a sophistication and deft adult handling in a traditionally juvenile format.
Tomorrowland is not a sci-fi action movie. The movie centers around teen Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a bright, optimistic, and plucky girl who has been mysteriously chosen as the future's last hope. In order to access this future, she needs the help of curmudgeonly Frank Walker (George Clooney), who has his own dire predictions for humanity's fate.
Here is what Tomorrowland trailers promise: a heady look at "tomorrowland", action sequences with robots, and a dazzling prediction of the gadgets and inventions that await us. The actual movie deviates strongly from this idea, and that's perhaps its driving point. We live in a society that no longer looks to the future as a sort of Jetson, Marty McFly flying cars bedazzlement, but instead focuses on zombies, doomsayer predictions of human nature and its successive actions.
The movie would have been more effective if presented as the actual think machine that it is and given a little more space to breathe so it could more headily explore its ideas rather than focusing on how the audience would consume it. There's unfortunately this sort of conflict within Tomorrowland that hampers its storytelling. Bird feels more passionately about his ideas than he's able to convey. We have Frank Walker juxtaposed with Casey's youth and hope, and we also have Frank Walker's growing maturity and cynicism juxtaposed with another major character Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who is stuck in a sort of stasis mentally and physically.
Bird, as always, does a great job maneuvering action sequences when they do occur. His rapport for his cast is unfortunately deterred by the inability of the younger actors (which the film tends to focus on). Clooney and Robertson are as effective as possible, but they don't always have a lot to work with and the discrepancy of the actors' actual ages from their characters was far too apparent (Robertson is seven years older than her character, while Clooney is about 15 years younger than what he should be). Scenes of Tomorrowland are snapping with vigor and imagination, but they number far too few in a movie that touts the title it does. The cinematography and even the usually stellar Michael Giacchino's soundtrack also do little to stand out, barely making waves in a movie meant to be revolutionary. Even the long tracking shot that follows one of Casey's first encounters with Tomorrowland lacks the verve and vitality that these shots usually do, as we're all too aware of its artificial creation.
The overall plot of Tomorrowland doesn't have enough of an arc to propel the story forward and its uneven distribution makes the story even more cumbersome as the conflict and resolution are presented too closely together. However, Bird's vision and his ambition should be rewarded. His themes are urgently relevant in this time, and hopefully positive for audience members that are open to it. Bird's goals may have been frustrated by Disney production desires as well as the double-edged sword of audience expectation.
There is, however, a sense of Bird's desires for the future which makes its way through the movie at times. These moments alone are enough to exemplify what he hoped for his passion project and what Disney himself might have envisioned to be Tomorrowland's purpose. For Brad Bird, we can see in his numerous movies that he believes in the power of thought and the influence of an individual. For that alone, it may be worth giving Tomorrowland a try.