Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird (story by Damon Lindelof & Brad Bird & Jeff Jensen)
Stars: George Clooney (Frank Walker), Hugh Laurie (Nix), Britt Robertson (Casey Newton), Raffey Cassidy (Athena), Tim McGraw (Eddie Newton), Kathryn Hahn (Ursula), Keegan-Michael Key (Hugo), Chris Bauer (Frank’s Dad), Thomas Robinson (Young Frank Walker), Pierce Gagnon (Nate Newton), Matthew MacCaull (Dave Clark), Judy Greer (Jenny Newton), Matthew Kevin Anderson (Bus Driver), Michael Giacchino (Small World Operator)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2015
Country: U.S.Tomorrowland Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD
TomorrowlandWhen Walt Disney introduced his Disneyland television series in 1954, its animated opening laid out four distinct “lands” that guided both the content of the show and the spatial layout of the eponymous theme park that was simultaneously being constructed on a former orange grove in southern California. While “Fantasyland” was deemed “the happiest land of all,” for many of that generation “Tomorrowland” was the most enticing, as it was the one area that, rather than being steeped in nostalgia for times past, offered the utopian “promise of things to come.” That turn of phrase is telling in the way it willfully borrows the title of the 1936 British sci-fi film Things to Come, which was written by H.G. Wells. For Wells, the future—the things to come—was a mix of the exciting and the horrible, with technological development and the ever-present human quest for knowledge and progress running alongside war, famine, and political oppression. For Disney, the nascent Space Age was one of unlimited promise, with technology and scientific progress opening the way to a utopian future of gleaming futuristic cities, space travel, and unlimited mechanical convenience.

That spirit of unguarded optimism is the guiding imperative behind Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, which would seem on the surface to be a lazy grab at cashing in on yet another familiar title in the Disney cultural arsenal. Of course, those who are familiar with Bird’s previous work, including the animated films The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004) and his franchise-revitalizing Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (2011), should know that a filmmaker of his intensity and passion is not about to settle for the easy or the obvious. There is no doubt that Bird is playing the nostalgia card for all its worth, but it’s in the service of counteracting the settled cynicism that permeates too much of our culture. His zeal for offering an alternative that is close in spirit to the old Disneyland television series is refreshing, even if it sometimes causes him to work with too heavy a hand.

The story takes place mostly in the present tense, although it opens at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows (the one that gave us the 12-story-high Unisphere) where we meet Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), a plucky and determined preadolescent inventor peddling his idea for a jetpack made out of vacuum cleaner parts. Though his would-be invention is thoroughly rebuked, he meets a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who invites him to secretly tag along to an interdimensional city of the future created and maintained by the best and brightest minds in the world—a secret utopia in which all technology and science is put toward the betterment of human existence.

We then jump forward to the present tense where we meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), another plucky and determined young protagonist whose scientific curiosity and unrelenting optimism puts into her possession a special pin that, with a single touch, allows her to experience Tomorrowland. Driven by her need to know more about the exhilarating world of the future, she sets out to find it, which brings her into contact with a range of characters, including Athena (who may or may not be there to help her), a pair of geeky sci-fi collectors played by Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key, and ultimately Frank Walker, who is now played by George Clooney as a grizzled, embittered loner who has walled himself off in a remote cabin whose rustic exterior belies the amazing technologies within. Suffice it to say that the spirited, optimistic teenager and the bitter old man team up and travel to Tomorrowland, whose fate ultimately rests in their hands. There is a sort-of villain named Nix (Hugh Laurie), whose villainy is defined primarily by his having given up hope that the future can save us (the same could be said of Frank, as well, but because Frank is played by George Clooney, we know that his sense of optimism and wonderment will be restored at some point). There are also various robots, of both the obvious and not-so-obvious varieties, nefarious black-suited agents, and ingenious devices hidden in surprisingly obvious places (let’s just say that the Eiffel Tower plays a role you wouldn’t necessarily expect).

Tomorrowland is generous and optimistic almost to a fault, but Bird makes it work by leavening the buoyant optimism with the realities of environmental destruction and fading hope in scientific progress. Clooney gives a finely grizzled performance that shows both humor and heart, but more importantly he recognizes that, despite his above-the-title credits, he is not the star of the show. Rather, it is Britt Robertson’s Casey, who reminds us that the power of youth resides in the merging of intelligence and enthusiasm untrammeled by cynicism and despair. Casey is not naïve—her father (Tim McGraw), a NASA engineer, is being laid off due to the dismantling of the space program, once the greatest symbol of scientific optimism—but she refuses to lose hope, which is what makes her special. It is also nice to see a young female protagonist who is celebrated for her smarts and resilience and who doesn’t shrink in Clooney’s shadow, but rather grows in her interactions with him. Tomorrowland is hardly a perfect film—it suffers from a reliance on certain worn formulas and, at times, too much hectic action—but it is a breath of fresh air amidst all the thoughtless destruction that seems to have become the de facto subject of most summer movies.

Tomorrowland Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD

Aspect Ratio2.20:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish, French
  • “Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland” with Brad Bird
  • “Casting Tomorrowland
  • “A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session”
  • “The World of Tomorrow Science Hour” hosted by futurologist David Nix
  • Animated Short: “The Origins of Plus Ultra”
  • Brad Bird Production Diaries
  • Blast from the Past commercial
  • Deleted scenes with filmmaker intro
  • DistributorWalt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
    Release DateOctober 13, 2015

    The video and audio quality of Tomorrowland are outstanding. The film is presented in a beautiful 1080p/AVC-encoded direct port from the digital master that is sharp, extremely well detailed, and bursting with color and contrast. The film’s numerous visual effects merge seamlessly with the live action footage, creating a palpable sense of environment that is one of the film’s strongest attributes. The image is framed at 2.20:1, which is the aspect ratio typically associated with 65mm film production (or, in this case, IMAX, where the film was shown theatrically). The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel soundtrack is likewise impressive, with great separation, depth, and surround effects. The action sequences have impressive dynamic range and immersion, and the low end gives the various explosions and roaring futuristic engines plenty of room-rattling bass.

    As good as the audio and video quality of the Blu-ray are, the supplements are disappointingly light, especially for a big-budget special effects film of this nature. The heftiest supplements on the disc are a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes: In “Remembering the Future: A Personal Journey Through Tomorrowland” (7 min.), director Brad Bird gives us a nostalgic look back at the development of Tomorrowland and the underlying optimism for the future it embodied; “Casting Tomorrowland” (7 min.) gives us brief interviews with, and on-set footage of, all the film’s stars, including George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, and Raffey Cassidy; and “A Great Big Beautiful Scoring Session” (6 min.) follows the first day of recording the film’s score, where composer Michael Giacchino (whose brother, documentarian Anthony Giacchino, shot all the footage) was joined by legendary Disney songwriter Richard Sherman,. The only other behind-the-scenes materials are two very brief two-minute “production diaries” by Brad Bird that were used as promotional material. Otherwise, the disc includes five minutes of humorous “outtakes” from The World of Tomorrow Science Hour, a fictional ’60s television pilot hosted by David Nix; a 41-second commercial for Blast From the Past, the sci-fi collector store seen in the film; and the three-minute animated short The Origins of Plus Ultra. There are also six deleted scenes, running about 9 minutes total, with introductions by Brad Bird.

    Copyright ©2015 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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