“Tomorrowland” is an uneven journey into the future via nostalgia for the past

The question “How do we fix it?” is asked constantly but the film completely misses the answer

Britt Robertson stars in a scene from the movie 'Tomorrowland.' (CNS photo/Disney)

Britt Robertson stars in a scene from the movie

MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating:
Reel Rating: (3 out of 5)

Like the vast, revolving jet ride from the attraction that inspired it, Tomorrowland feels a bit uneven and disjointed; you might say it is a contradiction in terms. It’s a kid flick but relies heavily on nostalgia. The story is rather dumb and at times naïve, but because it’s helmed by Brad Bird with his top notch crew it’s well written and thoroughly enjoyable. This strange contraption is fun and silly, but like one of its central characters it is still in search of something more.

Tomorrowland is Interstellar for tweens.Teenage-something Casey (Britt Robertson) is a whiz kid with a NASA engineer for a dad who wants to use science to change the world for the better but is constantly told the destruction of civilization is inevitable. Upon leaving prison after serving time for sabotaging the demolition of a shuttle launch pad, she receives a mysterious pin that transports her to futuristic world when she touches it. This amazing place, called “Tomorrowland”. is filled with jet packs, anti-gravity swimming pools, and chocolate milkshakes that provide endless youth – a good culinary choice for immortality. When the pin stops working, she goes searching for another route only to find deadly robots bent on her destruction until she is rescued by Athena (Raffey Cassidy), also a deadly robot but one who wants to help her return to Tomorrowland.

Cassidy’s performance is the hidden gem in an otherwise average movie. She is serious yet sentimental, intense yet relaxed, and at only twelve holds her own against – and at times surpasses – the acting of George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Athena brings Casey to retired inventor Frank Walker (Clooney), an exile who knows the way back. When these three companions finally make it, they discover that this new world has no real concern for the problems of tomorrow and may be making things even worse.

There’s a gleeful spirit in Tomorrowland that captures perfectly an eight-year-old child seeing the wonders of baking soda and vinegar mixing for the first time. It’s fun to make up neat gadgets and figure out how things work. As a child, Frank brought a prototype jet pack to the 1964 World’s Fair, an event which also saw the premiere of another infamous Disney ride. The judge quickly dismisses his idea. “It doesn’t work,” he mumbles. “Can’t it just be cool?” Frank replies.

The judge has a point: science should be at the service of mankind, making it easier for people to receive the goods and services needed for a fulfilling life. Yet science is also beautiful in its own right as an example of God’s aesthetic omniscience. The medieval philosophers who gave birth to the modern scientific industry understood this. They were mostly clerics who tried to figure out the movement of the stars or the variations on pea pods simply because it was interesting. Isaac Newton invented calculus simply to answer a question about the shape of cones. It didn’t help the crops grow faster; it was just fun.

The utopia that Tomorrowland appears to be in the first half of the film quickly becomes a dystopia after Frank, Casey, and Athena arrive. Rather than being brave enough to solve the problems of the world, the residents are simply watching the clock run down safely from a distance. Bird clearly illustrates that the problem isn’t science but humanity; what needs fixing is hearts. The solution Casey concocts is, frankly, pretty cheesy, amounting to the recreation of a famous Coke commercial from the 1970s. However, she does channel an important human virtue: hope. “There are two wolves,” she explains. “One is darkness. The other is light. Which one wins? The one you feed.” Science can be a medium of hope, but it comes from believing in good over evil.

There’s a gentle sadness that casts a shadow over Tomorrowland. The movie suggests that humanity is at a tipping point and that things could go south very quickly. Without giving into despair, there’s a measure of truth to this belief. Never at any point in human history has the consequences of any given action been so immediate. A single rash comment made online can instantly ruin a reputation. A single bomb has the potential to kill hundreds or thousands of people.

“How do we fix it?” This question is asked constantly in the film, but it misses the answer. The solution is Jesus. He already “fixed it” in the Paschal Mystery. If man directs his worship and morality towards him, then science will be effective and peace will come. Maybe not in this life, but certainly in the next. That is a tomorrow worth hoping for.

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About Nick Olszyk 190 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.