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Tomorrowland Review: Who'd Have Thought We'd Miss Dystopia So Much?

In 1960, it really might have been something. In 2015, it's not.

Rating: ˜…˜… If anyone had told you a couple of years ago that you'd ever see Hugh Laurie and George Clooney fist-fighting on a beach with killbot assistance, you'd probably confiscate whatever it was they were drinking. But that's the tomorrow that Brad Bird's optimistic but occasionally cloying sci-fi has built out of Disney's futuristic park zone. Tomorrowland is built on solid footing: Bird is an excellent, creative director and he knows what makes sci-fi tick, George Clooney is well cast and the younger elements of the cast skirt the right side of annoying to be enjoyable. Perhaps that's a bit of a reductive comment, but both Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy do seem from the Disney school of insistently charming in a slightly over the top sort of way. Even Hugh Laurie is ok, despite being horribly miscast as a Watchmen-like misguided despot looking for a clean slate: he just misses any actual menace, which is revealed to be intentional when the real villain is revealed to be, like, sadness or something. But despite some good ideas and a rather wonderful look, Tomorrowland suffers badly from a lack of identity. Or at least a lack of any substance that is truly gripping. It feels like the point where Jumanji, Zathura and the Never Ending Story meet, only with more ray guns and robo-violence, and the lasting impression is that this could really have been something. If it wasn't a Disney film, probably. And no amount of having Hugh Laurie shockingly say "oh, b*llocks" was going to change anything about the looming shadow of the mouse and Uncle Walt. Oddly, for something so caught up in its very particular vision of the future, there's something old - even antiquated - about Tomorrowland's vision. It's very easy to peg it as a naively idealistic hangover from 1960s futurism, a hippy dream that ignores the fact that most of what was promised by sci-fi classics back then hasn't happened yet. After all, Brad Bird is the same mind that created The Incredibles, which worked precisely for the reasons Tomorrowland doesn't quite. The problem here is that Bird's manifesto - to try and make a case for utopian dreaming, rather than revelling in dystopian thinking and creativity - does come across as painfully on the nose. It might as well have people of all colours standing hand in hand in a field singing "I'd like to teach the world to sing" (an appropriate allusion, given that Coke plays such a pertinent narrative point in getting over the time travelling hangover) as Hugh Laurie's not-entirely-wrong villain talks ominously about killing Mother Earth. It's occasionally eye-roll-worthy material, particularly when Laurie monologues about dystopia being a self-fulfilling prophecy and humans not paying attention to what they're doing to the planet, but when you think of the Disney principles of the '60s and before, you can perhaps understand it. It's just that that's not how anybody thinks now, and Tomorrowland feels an awful lot like it's fighting a battle that hasn't only been long lost, it's now being laughed about over coffees. Walt Disney's Tomorrowland was never built for people in 2015: it was intended or people looking to the future with wide-eyed glee and expectations, not the endless, cynical nostalgia of the millenials. And the great irony of the film is that in attempting to express that message, while sticking to the same sort of moral soap-boxing as Mary Poppins, the film makes itself sort of redundant. Someone should probably tell Bird and co that Walt isn't watching, and doesn't need to be pandered to. It might be full of Easter Eggs and nostalgia alongside its excellent special effects, but Tomorrowland is nowhere near as self-aware as it should be. Rather impossibly, it should probably have been more tuned into the cynicism, because otherwise the only response possible to it from about 90% of the people who see it will be feeling alienated and sneered at. The same way you couldn't solve the 2008 Financial Crisis with a rousing rendition of "Let's All Fly A Kite".
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