ReadThis: Vulture’s ‘Tomorrowland’ Review Just Gave Me Chills

tomorrowland horizontal

I can’t think of a movie review that’s ever given me chills. Maybe one of Roger Ebert’s from back in the day, but loved reading him for different reasons — his wit, his glib eye, and his unabashed honesty when he loved a movie.

But this Vulture review of TOMORROWLAND — “Tomorrowland is the Anti-Hunger-Games” — just gave me chills. Good chills. Some highlights:

Brad Bird’s Disney-produced sci-fi adventure Tomorrowland is the most enchanting reactionary cultural diatribe ever made. It’s so smart, so winsome, so utterly rejuvenating that you’ll have to wait until your eyes have dried and your buzz has worn off before you can begin to argue with it. And you should argue with it — even if you had a blast, as I did, and want to see it again with the kids, as I do — because it’s a major pop-culture statement with all sorts of implications, both vital and nutty.

[Main characters Casey and Frank, played by Britt Robertson and George Clooney] have unfettered imaginations that authority figures keep trying to fetter. They are meant for higher things. A sign with a quote from Albert Einstein spells out Bird’s manifesto: IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE.

Bird and composer Michael Giacchino lovingly conjure up the kid-movie era of high-school science fairs and friendly giant robots, before HAL, before the Terminator, before Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates (among others) predicted AIs will one day be the end of us. Tomorrowland whisks us back to when kids could (or at least thought they could) make rockets in their suburban garages out of old vacuum-cleaner parts, when a “city of the future” with the antiseptic bonhomie of Disney World could inspire awe instead of bad laughs and a desire to write WALT IS A PENIS on the side of a too-clean wall. In Casey’s era, by contrast, high-school teachers drone on about climate catastrophe and gaze on her with contempt when she interrupts to ask, “Can we fix it?” In Todayland, positivity makes you radioactive.

It emerges that Bird, in Tomorrowland, is mounting nothing less than a full-throated assault on the nihilism, dystopianism, and what might be called the fetishization of apocalypse in today’s movies, TV shows, and books — especially YA books that worm their way into the fantasies of impressionable kids. This is not, you understand, the movie’s subtext. It’s the Über-Über-text. It’s the message that’s articulated in multiple ways, as boldly as that Einstein sign, by characters bad and good, and it’s implicit in the riddle posed by Casey’s NASA dad that becomes the cornerstone of his daughter’s worldview: You have two wolves, one representing darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one lives? Says Casey: “The one you feed.”

Cassidy is the movie’s breakout star, and wouldn’t it be a grim irony if she ends up starring in the next dystopian YA “franchise”? What else does Hollywood do with kids these days besides pulp them?

I loved all of that so much. If I’m being completely honest, over the past few years, I’ve been slipping and slipping into cynicism and skepticism, and while those can be useful, they were making me someone I was not. They were taking my faith in the good things I believed in. And movies like Tomorrowland — I need them, and I think we all do, especially in the cynical age we live in now, because we need to believe in a world that can be better tomorrow than it was today, not worse.

And why not? Why not believe that’s possible? Why not try to create things that help that belief? Why not try to create things that make it true?