For all the spectacle, grandeur and wonder Disney’s new film Tomorrowland boasts I didn’t feel blown away or inspired when I left the theater. I felt chided.
Director Brad Bird has an eye for action that few others can match and the film’s three leads, George Clooney, Brit Robertson and Raffey Cassidy are irresistibly charming. Unfortunately the central thesis the film seems beholden to overrides any goodwill the likable protagonists manage to conjure up.
Tomorrowland wants to remind audiences that entertainment wasn’t always so bleak and unforgiving and that there’s a case to be made for movies that value fun and aspiration over grit and despair.
Tomorrowland also wants to let audiences know that if you enjoy bleak, unforgiving grit in your entertainment you are, in no uncertain terms, what is wrong with the world. It not only decides for us that the world we live in is an awful place declining into hellish oblivion more and more every day, it asserts that our tastes are a problem and that it is a solution.
It’s a condemnation of incorrect imagination. The creation of and interest in entertainment that depicts a darker, worse world than we live in is an unspoken acknowledgement on the part of the creator or interested party that we are fine with the world plunging into oblivion because, as the film’s antagonist states, dystopia asks nothing of us but to sit back and let it happen.
On the contrary, brighter more utopian works like Tomorrowland are doing god’s work. The film justifies its own existence within the first fifteen minutes, as a boy explains that the jet pack he’s invented has the power to change the world because if a person sees a boy flying with a jet pack they can believe that anything is possible. The notion seems to be something of Tomorrowland’s mission statement, to serve as a beacon for audiences to aspire to. But not before condemning us for enjoying anything with a darker tone because we are not dreamers.
Tomorrowland isn’t content just to bring its ideas to the table. If it were I suspect my opinion of the movie might be drastically different. It absolutely insists on belittling ideas to the contrary and as a result the movie winds up less a beacon and more a catalyst for cinematic infighting as it casts a dualistic eye over creativity and entertainment, dividing it into upstanding and inspirational works such as itself, and gritty, dystopian works that audiences enjoy not because of our own intellectual proclivities but because we’re jackasses who crave the imminent arrival of a world without hope to free us of any and all personal responsibility.
And yet Tommorowland is never willing to completely lean into its own assertions and call into question our culture’s overindulgence in entertainment as a whole. After all that would be an indictment of itself. It wants us to know that we’re definitely wrong, but it isn’t because we place too much importance on entrainment, we’re wrong because we place too much importance on the wrong entertainment. A fun loophole for detractors: if you don’t like Tomorrowland it has nothing to do with the film and everything to do with how you are the problem destroying the planet.
Maybe Tomorrowland is right and I’m only lashing out because the film has me pegged. Maybe I like the entertainment I like because it helps me subscribe to a belief that the world is shit and will be shit no matter what I do and so I may as well guiltlessly do nothing for the world around me.
Now that I’m writing it out it makes perfect sense that that would be why I liked Mad Max: Fury Road. I guess I need to rewrite my piece on that one.
In the same villainous monologue mentioned above Hugh Laurie’s character asks a compelling question: how does a planet have an obesity epidemic and a starvation epidemic at the same time?
Maybe it’s because 17 million people watched the season five premiere of The Walking Dead. Maybe it’s because Disney spent $190 million dollars on a two hour accusation, never mind the $4 billion it spent on acquiring the Star Wars music queues said accusation so delights in utilizing. Maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with entertainment, self-fulfilling, self-important or otherwise. The sixth season of The Walking Dead will probably end the world before we have time to find out.