Big fan of Brad Bird. Always have been. The Incredibles, great. Ratatouille, fantastic. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, surprisingly good. The Iron Giant, unbelievable. This is his latest outing, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond, which I got to see over the weekend, and while it’s clear Brad Bird is trying, it simply cannot live up to his previous modern-day classics and unfortunately comes across as a bit of a letdown. It’s certainly not bad at all, there are some good effects and action scenes, there’s some good actors and it explores some interesting ideas, but ultimately it is a bit muddled, clumsily structured and really quite tame. While there are elements of the film that are typically Bird – scenes at the beginning showing one of the heroes as a young boy learning how to fly a jetpack could easily be something from Iron Giant – it feels like this may have been out of his comfort zone and in the end doesn’t come across as that exciting or innovative.
The story follows a young girl and science whiz Casey (Britt Robertson) who is granted a chance by the future to see their world and is desperate to visit, but ultimately realises this future land has been created as her own world is being destroyed, and the officials at the head of Tomorrowland are keen to keep her out, as she may be able to fix the problem. To get to the future, she enlists the help of a grumpy has-been Frank Walker (George Clooney) who was exiled from it, and a young girl robot who gave her the opportunity to see the world in the first place.
It is clear that those at the heart of the film, Brad Bird and the cast and crew, are trying very hard to make this a great sci-fi flick, but it doesn’t really seem to pay off. The ideas and execution of those concepts don’t feel too original and character motivations are very unclear. Hugh Laurie also appears as the villain, but perhaps due to his body of work, I don’t think we can quite take him seriously enough.
There are story issues here too – it takes far too long to get to the good stuff, there is a great deal more establishing than is necessary in some places but far too little in others, and we don’t become very invested in our characters. Britt Robertson does make for a fairly good protagonist, even injecting some humour into the events, but can’t save this film which, in a similar way to John Carter a few years back, may have been helmed by animator out of his depth in a huge live-action production. There is good stuff to see here but one can’t help but be a little disappointed and slightly surprised that this is the same person who made The Incredibles. With a sequel to that masterpiece supposedly on the way as his next project, let’s hope this is a blip and he finds his mojo again.