TomorrowlandcoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes, but…
2015, 130 min., Color
Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and peril, thematic elements and language
Aspect ratio: 2.20:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Promo clip
Amazon link

I’m just going to blurt it out: Tomorrowland is entertaining, but underwhelming—at least in the beginning.

Even under the capable direction of Brad Bird (Ratatouille, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) Disney’s latest onscreen theme-park ride feels uneven and unnecessarily complicated, especially in the early going. It takes 22 minutes before the film seems to find its footing. Until then, you’ll have family members asking what’s going on and whether the action is taking place in the past, present, future, or distant future. Later, it can be emotionally confusing, as persons we thought were human are struck by a car or beheaded in an explosion (Uh, Disney?)—after which we learn that they’re really highly refined futuristic robots.

Until the plot kicks in, at least the art direction and set decoration and CGI world that the filmmakers create are all bright and shiny and impeccably rendered. Along with the action, it’s enough to hold your attention until everything starts to make more sense. Tomorrowland clocks in at 130 minutes, and if Bird had compressed and simplified that beginning it would have been a B+ film. Then again, that opening was obviously intended as a theme park tie-in. Instead of Disney World it’s the New York World’s Fair in 1964 that we enter, with a voiceover singing the theme song from the Carousel of Progress and one of the main characters urged to hop aboard a ride that just happens to be a modified version of It’s a Small World.

Tomorrowlandscreen1Two very different characters are targeted to receive a “T” button under mysterious circumstances: a boy genius who brings his Electrolux-converted jet pack to a World’s Fair Tomorrowland attraction, and a rebellious teen girl who sneaks onto a decommissioned NASA launch pad and is arrested for her trouble. But it’s only when that teen girl meets the grown-up boy genius that things really start to roll in this fantasy-adventure.

I don’t know about hidden Mickeys, but you can spot Space Mountain in the midst of the futuristic world in Tomorrowland, and the special and visual effects are the film’s chief strength. Not far behind, though, are performances by Thomas Robinson as young Frank, George Clooney as old Frank, and Britt Robertson as Casey Newton. Even Raffey Cassidy as the mysterious Athena, a young girl who spans generations, adds to the mix so that collectively they make us care about the action, however confused it may be at times.

Tomorrowlandscreen2Disney is known for its strong villains, but surprisingly Hugh Laurie as David Nix, the leader of Tomorrowland, isn’t played over-the-top. He’s more of a misguided misanthrope who could be anyone’s dad fed up with society and resigned to its doom. But the stakes are predictably high: the world will end in the near future unless Casey and Frank can do their thing, despite Nix’s attempts to, uh, nix that.

It’s really pretty amazing what can be done with CGI these days, and Disney spared no expense. The film cost anywhere from $190 million to $330 million to produce and market, depending upon whose figures you buy. Meanwhile, the worldwide gross was $208 million, so financially it’s another big-budget Disney disappointment. But both of my teens said they’d definitely watch Tomorrowland again, and that says a lot. Once you get past a muddled beginning the action and story and characters make for an entertaining family movie night.

Language: Mostly “hells” and “damns”
Sex: n/a
Violence: Plenty of sci-fi violence, including a charred and decapitated head that turns out to be robotic, humans are killed by ray guns, a robotic girl is run over by a car, and the female lead bashes the heck out of a robot with a baseball bat
Adult situations: A father asks if his daughter’s on drugs, but that’s about it
Takeaway: Effects are great, but story still matters. And once this story kicks in, Tomorrowland is worth the visit.