Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant is a modern classic (his best film), The Incredibles is a touch of class, Ratatouille is sweet, and his Mission Impossible breathed new life into the franchise, but Tomorrowland isn't in the same league - chock-full of ideas but let down by an unclear plot.
It's the mid-sixties and boy genius Frank (Thomas Robinson) approaches scientist David Nix (Laurie) at a World's Fair with a jetpack, the crude but clever design impressing Nix's child assistant Athena (Cassidy) who wonders if the boy has what it takes. Nix disagrees but she invites Frank to Tomorrowland anyway, a fantastic realm created by scientists and artists which will be presented to the world in the hope it will be shared in peace.
Fast forward to today and the world is on the cusp of an ecological disaster. Teenager Casey Newton (Robertson) is given a badge that allows her to visualise this Tomorrowland. Why didn’t it ever come into being? Does it still exist? Can it be used to save the planet?
Tomorrowland bursts with imagination. The story has that Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, Zathura, Polar Express) vibe, with cute concepts and a potty plot that's always in danger of getting carried away with itself. The visuals have a fun retro vision of the future, as if Bird reckons the years to come will still look the way they imagined it would in The Jetsons. There are some great sequences – Clooney’s booby-trapped house invaded by smiling killer androids, Robertson’s discovery that the future world and this world exist in different dimensions but occupy the same physical space, and the comic book shop battle with Kathryn Hahn.
However, keeping up to speed with it all requires work. With a story built on shifting sands - objectives are unclear, motives forever changing, and whose story is this anyway? - Bird and Lost writer Damon Lindelof struggle to keep things together. They don't do themselves any favours with a busy and confusing first five minutes that simply presents too many whos, whats, whens, and whys in a movie that's pitched at children. Who is George Clooney? Why is he in the future talking to camera? What's the ticking time bomb? Who is the kid in sixties with a jetpack? Who is Athena and why is she overly keen on helping him? Why is Newton breaking into Cape Canaveral on a sabotage mission? There are a lot of balls in the air here to try and juggle. Where some sequences have a feel of being giddy and fun, some other sequences – for example the Eifel Tower scenario – feel as though they're lifted from a Dan Brown novel orNational Treasure.
Fun in places, perplexing in others, Tomorrowland won’t be considered one of Bird's best.