Tomorrowland, the latest from director Brad Bird, doesn’t make much sense. The film’s drawn-out 130 minute runtime features such mysteries as an interdimensional portal located in Disney’s “Small World” attraction, a secret rocket ship built into the Eiffel Tower, and a cameo from Key & Peele’s titular Key. What, you ask, is the significance of these things? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
The film is overloaded with ideas that are fun, but lack the execution needed to pull them all together. It’s also weighed down by a heavy-handed didacticism that doesn’t exactly help an already struggling plot. As much as I respect Bird and his co-writer Lindelof, I hated walking out of the theater knowing I couldn’t recommend this movie to anyone.
By this point, Tomorrowland is a certifiable flop. It scored a tepid 50% on Rotten Tomatoes and is projected to lose Disney somewhere in the range of $140 million. To put it harshly, it’s Disney’s biggest flop since The Lone Ranger and is currently performing worse than Jupiter Ascending did.
As always, there are a multitude of different factors that affect whether or not a movie succeeds at the box office. One big reason might have to do with the identity problem at Tomorrowland‘s center. About fifteen minutes in, I suddenly remembered that this was a PG film—something I’m still struggling to make sense of.
Kids are central to the plot and overall theme of the movie, but the ones watching probably aren’t going to be pointing out references to the apocalyptic literature of George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. They aren’t going to understand the significance of post-war futurism or why today’s culture takes a decidedly grimmer view of things.It makes even less sense when you consider that Bird has proven himself with more grownup fare via Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Lindelof is currently a showrunner for HBO’s rather adult series The Leftovers. So why the PG rating? It seems like a major miscalculation in choosing Tomorrowland’s target audience.
But perhaps the most frustrating thing about the movie is its brand of optimism (which one writer argues is actually a thinly veiled pessimism). From the beginning, the story’s protagonist wields the sort of bright-eyed naiveté usually reserved for characters being set up for a rude awakening. Only, in Tomorrowland, the awakening never happens.
There’s something refreshing about that, and the film makes some good points about negativity and its effect on our culture. In one scene, the protagonist listens to her teacher ramble on about the aforementioned apocalyptic literature, when she gets fed up and raises her hand. “So what are we doing about it?” she asks.
As another character points out, it’s easier to accept this pessimistic view of the future since it requires nothing of us in the here and now.
Yet Tomorrowland is so in-your-face with this sort of proselytizing that it begins to lose its meaning. It’s the Disney message of hope and joy turned all the way up to eleven, to the point where it becomes downright aggressive and more than a little ridiculous. There’s no denying the film has heart, but it’s a little misguided—pure as its intentions may be.
Even without its thematic issues, Tomorrowland would still be a bit of a mess. The film suffers from an endless amount of CGI, the characters aren’t always convincing, and the structure feels scattered right from the start. Bird executes his action sequences with a deft hand, but there isn’t much that isn’t shown in the trailer.
Tomorrowland may be the first major disappointment of the summer, but the future is bright for the coming months—just save your money on this one.