Disclaimer: Brad Bird is one of my favorite writers/directors OAT—I’m certainly not unique in that regard—so, YES, I wanted to love Tomorrowland long before I saw it. I think that when an artist I oh-so greatly admire believes as strongly in something they’ve created as Bird seems to, I am obligated to try and really grasp their vision before I dismiss it as “muddled” or “preachy,” which are some of the nicer criticisms being spewed about the film. Of course, it is also crucial in forming meaningful opinions to step back and take in the art as executed: the good, the bad and the Clooney.
In what is (my mother assures me) a normal part of the human condition, I often find myself a moody mess as two raging “wolves,” hope and despair, battle inside me. Just as Casey, the heroine in Tomorrowland, reminds us, I have always found the one who wins is inevitably the one I feed. Thanks to an upbringing full of good stories, a well-formed moral conscience, honest philosophical discussions, and an encouraged whimsical imagination, the despair wolf in me has remained emaciated enough for me to appreciate positive, uplifting films like this one. Unfortunately, many of the critics blasting TL are the very sort of cynical thinkers the film is castigating and so, of course, they hate it. What struck me watching TL a second time was how seldom the used-to-be-cliché message, “You, an autonomous person, can shape your own destiny and even help better the entire world by choosing light over darkness,” is heard anymore.
I am notoriously naïve, (although I can’t believe that I am surprised by anything anymore) but I just didn’t realize how few films with an unceasingly optimistic protagonist are made anymore. It seems to me a crucial component in child development to believe that anything is possible, if you work hard and don’t lose hope. Sure, Casey is a little Pollyanna-ish, but why can’t she be? Does every character today have to be angst-ridden, burdened by death or impending death or disease or famine or just general self-absorption? Casey scoffs such an assumption in the film; George Clooney’s character, Frank, thinks Casey is out on her adventure because she never got enough attention from her dad, to which she admonishes him by saying her dad is amazing. What? No troubled past? No daddy issues? That doesn’t jive with our steady diet of reality television and social media. I mean, what is she going to complain about on Twitter if she’s (blech) happy all the time?
Tomorrowland is a resounding slap in the face of our perpetually pessimistic culture, with Casey, Frank and even the show-stealing robot, Athena, being the EXACT opposite of basically every politician, news reporter, doctor, scientist and teacher in the Western world. Casey, especially, is full of the kind of ingenuity, imagination and idealism taken for granted only half a century ago. It is no surprise that the film is being accused of sermonizing—it undoubtedly is. Thankfully, as a good, guilt-ridden Catholic, I appreciate a dose of morality being laid on me. It does a body—and soul—good. I believe Tomorrowland is exactly the kind of film that more companies should be making and more kids should be watching. I do not think the entirety of TL is perfect—I would personally have preferred an ending that involved combining the worlds a little more that just continuing a tradition of isolating the dreamers, but no matter my qualms, I do love the film and I am very happy it was made. For what it’s worth, I also believe this would have been a film Walt Disney would have loved, not to mention a film he would have loved to make.
If you haven’t seen it, go! Go with the open mind and wide eyes of a child. Go with a child! And if you’ve seen it once, I suggest seeing it again because I liked it after I first saw it two weeks ago, but I LOVED it this time around.