I blame Johnny Depp for the letdown I experienced watching Tomorrowland with my kids on Memorial Day. It’s a summer blockbuster based on a Disneyland attraction so there’s no chance it can be good, right? Well. I was surprised by my love for Pirates of the Carribean – Part One of A Thousand and that love left me with a ray of hope that Disney could pull off something like that again sometime. But Johnny Depp was not in this movie. Neither was joy.
Tommorowland was a hundred minute prologue leading up to a 30 minute propaganda fest about never giving up hope and working together for a better tomorrow. Now, I’m all about never giving up hope and working together for a better tomorrow, but I hate being beat over the head with messaging.
I like to be entertained, and gently educated by a filmmaker who tells me a story and lets me draw my own conclusions. There can be some direct messaging but it has to be done right.
Tomorrowland ended up looking like a TV commercial for clean energy and youth engagement. Yay clean energy! Yay youth tackling social issues! That’s great.
Tell me a story.
Recently we watched Rudy with the kids for the first time. I had forgotten how much I loved that movie. Mid-twenties dyslexic runty athlete struggles repeatedly to get into the college of his dreams, won’t take no for an answer and ends up getting the stuffing beat out of him as he tries to prove that he’s an athlete – unsuccessfully. What he proves is – he’s got heart and you can succeed at anything if you never give up. He starts a legacy of higher education in his family. He makes me cry. And then he becomes a Hobbit.
Rudy didn’t have nearly as many decapitated flesh-covered robots as Tomorrowland and it definitely had more swearing, but it’s hands-down a better movie. And there are pep talks in the movie about never quitting and about having hope, but they are part of dialogue between the characters, not direct address to the audience as the next generation of robot recruiters marches off into a sea of wind turbines.
Yes they do.
A highlight of the film was Hugh Laurie as the evil bad guy who doesn’t love hope or spunky kid robots with British accents or humanity. That guy could make Anakin Skywalker’s lines from Star Wars Episode II seem moderately interesting. He’s that good. But not good enough to save this movie.
My five-year-old was simultaneously scared and bored and the other two, who love just about every movie by virtue of us seeing it in a theatre, were both highly underwhelmed.
“It was pretty anti-climactic and didn’t really have a story,” Laylee said, “But thanks for taking us.”
If you’re looking for something to do next weekend with your kids, I suggest blowing up lego models of the Eiffel Tower in your back yard and reading pamphlets from the Gates Foundation in your best George Clooney voice. It will be cheaper and probably more fun.
After writing this review, I decided to peruse the internet and see what critics were saying, something I failed to do before going to the movie. My favorite snippet came from A. O. Scott at the New York Times:
“My son briefly had a youth baseball coach whose way of inspiring his demoralized players was to stand at the dugout entrance screaming at them to have fun. “Tomorrowland,” Brad Bird’s energetic new film, a shiny live-action spectacle from Disney, reminds me of that guy. There is nothing casual or whimsical about this movie’s celebration of imagination, optimism and joy. On the contrary: It’s a determined and didactic argument in favor of all those things, and an angry indictment of everyone who opposes them.”