Lawrence Toppman

Giddy ‘Tomorrowland’ a wild ride with a message

George Clooney and Britt Robertson in “Tomorrowland.”
George Clooney and Britt Robertson in “Tomorrowland.” DISNEY

“Do I have to explain everything? Can’t you just be amazed and move on?” asks inventor Frank Walker in the middle of “Tomorrowland.”

Well, yeah, mostly. The movie leaves a bunch of questions unanswered but rockets ahead in such entertaining style that I scarcely minded.

I was too busy marveling at the fact that Walt Disney Co. has released a movie placing the blame for Earth’s imminent destruction on corrupt politicians, greedy heads of industry and stupid, lazy voters who think the apocalypse makes a cool topic for films, TV shows and video games – in short, the audience for this picture.

Director Brad Bird (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), who co-wrote the script with Damon Lindelof (“World War Z”), sets out to amuse us but ends up scaring us, before the inevitable and rather unlikely rush of hope.

They begin at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where middle-aged Nix (Hugh Laurie) and young Athena (the remarkable Raffey Cassidy) recruit inventors who might contribute to a futuristic city. Young Frank, who has built a primitive jet pack, inspires her to give him a magical pin that will transport him to this Tomorrowland.

Cut to the present. Athena, still a “girl”– a girl robot with hilarious Terminator skills, of course – gives such a pin to high-schooler Casey Newton (Charlotte-born Britt Robertson, too old but otherwise first-rate).

Athena pairs optimistic Casey with pessimistic, 60-ish Frank, who was expelled from the future and now calculates our world has less than a year to go before wars, environmental degradation and shortages of resources trigger catastrophes from which we can’t recover.

Albert Einstein’s quote “Imagination is more important than knowledge” can be seen on a wall in the future; Bird and Lindelof criticize people who insist on “practical” education at the expense of creative thinking. (Are you listening, N.C. legislature?) They suggest real genius consists of conceptualizing and solving problems, not simply crunching data. Nix, whose very name means “no” in slang, does that.

The film’s sense of wonder and novelty sometimes take it into nutty Dan Brown territory. (Scenes in Paris must affect fantasy writers that way.) The violence, mostly but not entirely against androids, seems excessive for a PG rating.

Yet it maintains a sense of humor. Casey’s family name comes from brilliant mathematician Isaac Newton; Hugo Gernsback, who published the first science fiction magazine in 1926 (“Amazing Stories”), lends his name to a wacky purveyor of space-age memorabilia.

The filmmakers come as close as they dare (especially for a Disney audience) in telling us the world teeters toward total disaster in our century. So the message of optimism rings just a bit hollow.

The film also poses an interesting idea: Without exception, all “dreamers” recruited in the future – the people on whom survival depends – are kids, women or men of color. Bird and Lindelof, both middle-aged white guys, seem to think middle-aged white guys have had their chance and blown it.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

REVIEW

‘Tomorrowland’

A 60-ish inventor and a brilliant high school student try to avert worldwide disaster by changing our destiny from the future. More imaginative than it sounds.

B STARS: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Raffey Cassidy, Hugh Laurie.

DIRECTOR: Brad Bird.

RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes.

RATING: PG (sequences of science fiction action violence and peril, thematic elements, language).

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