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Once upon a time, the future was a bright and shiny place to look forward to. So what went wrong? That’s the question behind Tomorrowland, which manages to fall somewhere between the The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean when it comes to Disney’s theme park-based movie output. Back in 1964, a young boy took his homemade jetpack to the World’s Fair in the hope of impressing some judges and winning $50. Instead, thanks to Athena (Raffey Cassidy), he was given a badge that opened a door to a fantastic world of scientific optimism. Strangely, when we jump forward to the present day, it’s… well, the present day: we have a bunch of cool stuff, but nothing like the bright and shining future we were promised. And for teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), that’s just not good enough. She spends her days frustrated at a school that only seems to teach despair and her nights sabotaging the destruction of the launch gantries at Cape Canaveral (where her dad works) – until one night she discovers a strange badge she’s never seen before, a badge that holds out the promise of a brave new world…
Not to give away too much of the mystery that follows, but it does involve a cranky inventor (George Clooney), a mysteriously ageless Athena, and a super-scientific conspiracy more than a century old that seems pretty much lifted whole out of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) has made a fun mystery thriller for kids that has a bunch of exciting visuals, a great sense of wonder, a story that wobbles a bit and drags out the various plot reveals for way too long, and a bunch of core ideas that are actually kind of dodgy. It’s a film that says that not only are some people more special than others, but that those special people should get special treatment, which sounds great until you ask who gets to decide who gets to be special (here it’s robots). But if you can overlook that stuff, this has enough big screen spectacle – and a winning double act in cranky Clooney and perky Cassidy – to make for a fun, if sometimes draining, funpark ride.