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Tomorrowland

Year: 2015
Studio: Disney
Director: Brad Bird
Producer: Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird
Writer: Damon Lindelof/Brad Bird/Jeff Jensen
Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Kathryn Hahn, Judy Greer

I didn't see Tomorrowland until long after it came out but I was very aware of all the comment about what a letdown and a flop it was at the time.

Highly visible box office failures assumed to be woeful movies that turn out to be perfectly enjoyable when you finally see them are a dime a dozen, but that's not why I found this movie a pleasant surprise.

Here's why I did. One of the hottest trends sweeping Hollywood at the moment is tackling sexism in the industry. One headline after another screeches hysterically about how male, white and straight awards line-ups, comic book movie directors and box office performers are.

We need more strong women on screen, we're constantly told. We need feminist theory with our blockbusters, we're constantly told. Why is it that a male hero just makes it a movie whereas a female hero makes it a girls' movie, we're constantly asked?

Well, here was Britt Robertson for that brief moment and the world didn't even bat an eyelid. She's 25 but pays a teenager (natch), but she has beauty without acting beautiful and a gift for physical comedy, enduring several falls, throws and hits to the face with aplomb.

Then there's the character Robertson plays, Casey. A science and engineering-obsessed schoolgirl who never wears a prom dress, chases a boy or takes her top off, Casey wears a cap, rides a bike and spends her nights sabotaging the decommissioning of a NASA facility, trying to halt the slide in funding (and confidence) in science.

The part could easily have been written for a boy, but the fact that the character is a girl yet doesn't trade on any innate 'femaleness' comes the closest to the feminist ideal everyone in Hollywood's crowed about for years, and nobody even spotted it.

The opening scenes introduce us to an amazing world built in an apparently parallel universe behind the 1964 World's Fair, where a kid named Frank wants to exhibit his home-made rocket pack and is targeted by a young girl, Athena (Raffey Cassidy, who's school production-level acting is one of the many weak links), who offers him a ticket to the titular world.

In the present day, Casey is picked up by the cops during her latest jaunt to stop the backward march of progress and when they give her belongings back, they contain the pin you've seen in the trailer that transports Casey to Tomorrowland whenever she touches it.

It's been put there by Athena, still a young girl because she's actually a robot tasked with identifying and recruiting 'dreamers' like Casey to save Tomorrowland from the danger it faces in its malevolent Governor (Hugh Laurie).

Casey teams up with the now grown up and very reluctant Frank (George Clooney) to reach Tomorrowland and save it. A grouch and a pessimist, Frank was kicked out of Tomorrowland – for some reason (one of the most fatal flaws of the film is plotting that's often not distinctive enough to make sense or remember) – and doesn't want to go back, but Casey's insistence and the relationship with Athena he lost years ago convinces him to show her the way there.

The grand theme of the movie is one we don't see nearly enough of today – that the future can be bright and we should be optimistic about technology's potential to make everyone's life better – more or less the mission statement of the spirit behind the Disneyland area on which the film's based. Sadly, it seems it was just too hard a sell in today's movie market where the dystopian futures of war-ravaged lands and fascist dictatorships of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner are bringing the kids in droves.

It also might have better had the story been as well thought out as the theme. The plot meanders quite clumsily, the climax in particular a damp squib that isn't really explained very well. For now the curse hanging over screenwriter Damon Lindelof after the Lost conclusion and Prometheus and also over Pixar directors doing live action movies (after Andrew Stanton's John Carter) continues.

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