The inspiration for “Tomorrowland,” a George Clooney-starring sci fi-adventure that never truly takes flight, came in the form of a box of models, blueprints, photos and letters in the Walt Disney archives.
The archival material is related to the Disney company’s creations for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Specifically the “It’s a Small World” ride, the “Carousel of Progress” and, featuring Disney’s “animatronic” historical figures, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
However inspiring their source material may have been, writer-director Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof have fashioned an uninspiring muddle of a movie. The film’s vague message seems to be: Think positively — or bad things will happen.
Clooney, who’s off the screen for an extraordinary amount of time, plays the grumpy middle-aged inventor of all manner of high-tech gadgets. The old house in rural New York where Clooney lives is actually a high-tech, heavily protected fortress.
Fifty years before, the then optimistic, naturally inventive small-boy version of Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, brought his jetpack invention to the World’s Fair. Frank meets Athena, an enigmatic, English-accented little girl, at the fair. She introduces the boy to the world of the future.
Frank later disappears from the story, yielding the spotlight to teen troublemaker Casey Newton. Played by the annoyingly energized Britt Robertson, Casey has made it her business to stop NASA from scrapping its launch site at Cape Canaveral. If the agency cancels its space program, Casey’s NASA engineer dad (Tim McGraw), who’s depressed about the forthcoming shutdown, will be out of work.
“Tomorrowland” features lots of frantic, noisy action sequences that ultimately add nothing to the film’s cloudy narrative. And the mystery the film tries to weave merely adds to its confused jumble of ill-fitting ideas and action set pieces.
The film’s early interaction between the older version of Frank and Casey is all about shouting, his grousing and their shared, unfunny slapstick. These scenes are more an assault on the senses than entertainment.
As Frank, Clooney has never been so sour on screen. An apparently brilliant scientist, Frank nevertheless has resigned himself to the Earth’s destruction at the hands of man. Frank is the most unpleasant, least entertaining character in Clooney’s movie career.
The confusion continues as Casey and the returning, forever young Athena — a butt-kicking version of “Peter Pan’s” Tinker Bell — convince, in their hazy, half-baked way, the extremely reluctant, grouchy old Frank that Casey is a special person who can save the world.
Hugh Laurie co-stars as the story’s likewise ill-defined villain, scientist David Nix. The silly future fashion Nix and his peers wear in Tomorrowland is so distracting that no one is likely to hear his sneering, bland dialogue.
“This is a story about the future,” Clooney says at the beginning of “Tomorrowland.” “And the future can be scary.”
That may well be, but filmgoers who sit down in movie theaters to watch “Tomorrowland” can expect their immediate future to be confusing.