05/22/2015 12:17 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2015

'Tomorrowland' Is Full Of Wonder But Light On Meaning

Walt Disney Pictures

"Tomorrowland" is forecasted to top the Memorial Day Weekend box office. The receipts won't be nearly as hefty as last year's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" or 2013's "Fast & Furious 6," but the movie will nonetheless become one of only a few non-franchise properties to debut at No. 1 this summer. That's even more of a feat given how much secrecy has surrounded the film since it was green-lit in 2011. Inspired by the futuristic region of Disney's theme parks, "Tomorrowland" is a preachy take on the apathy with which humans have treated this planet. But it is not without a deep sense of wonder that director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles," "Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol") presents his take on the state of the earthly union. (Bird co-wrote the script with "Lost" and "The Leftovers" co-creator Damon Lindelof, who also earns a story-by credit alongside Entertainment Weekly journalist Jeff Jensen.)

"Tomorrowland' is a secret no more, however. The buzzy $190 million spectacle has two perspectives at its core: that of a young Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson), a precocious kid who attends the 1964 New York World's Fair to present the homemade jet pack he invented. A snooty judge (Hugh Laurie) dismisses Frank's creation after seeing it leaves some functionality to be desired. But wait! An even more precocious young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) tips him off to an underground lair accessed via Disney's "It's a Small World" ride, and there he finds a utopian kingdom that's two or three stylized daydreams removed from the real world. Years later, an ageless Athena tracks down Casey (Britt Robertson), a teenager living with her hothead single father (Tim McGraw) and doting little brother (Pierce Gagnon), who does everything she can to protect the nearby NASA plant from being destroyed. Casey receives a pin that, when touched, transports her -- and only her -- to Tomorrowland, which she comes to discover has been commandeered by that same surly judge who dismissed Frank Walker years ago. Casey tracks down a much older Frank (George Clooney) and insists they rescue this futuristic mecca from doom.

george clooney

There's a lot of plot in that paragraph, and even if it takes a while for it all to unfold, it only scrapes the surface of "Tomorrowland." There are Big Themes about disregard and environmentalism and pissy worldviews and doomsday media culture and loss of imagination stamped all over the film. Most of them are too heavy-handed, even for a family flick. Still, we wouldn't go so far as to say "Tomorrowland" isn't worth your time. In fact, a lot of it is quite fun and quite refreshing given the tired tropes that both young-adult fare and summer blockbusters cannot escape.

Here are a few things that make Bird's pageant worth your attention:

1. The three kid actors steal the show.
"Tomorrowland" has to contend with an unremarkable (possibly miscast?) George Clooney, who plays present-day Frank Walker, the cranky Tomorrowland alum who is now living in a secluded house bugged with so many whirling gizmos that it belongs in, well, a sci-fi movie. Clooney isn't phoning it in, per se -- he just doesn't bring much to the table that any moderately gruff middle-aged actor couldn't. Instead, count on the marvel of Britt Robertson, Thomas Robinson and especially Raffey Cassidy as the three charming kiddos at the film's center. Robertson is its lead, despite Clooney getting top billing; she plays the young teen recruited to travel with Frank back to Tomorrowland. Robinson is a wide-eyed delight as the younger Frank in flashback scenes, and Cassidy -- a Felicity Jones look-alike with small roles in "Dark Shadows" and "Snow White and the Huntsman" to her name -- dominates the film as the enigmatic British lass who shepherds most of its action. Cassidy's telling eyes are reminiscent of "Parent Trap"-era Lindsay Lohan, and she boasts the same confident comedic caliber to boot.

raffey cassidy

2. The world of Tomorrowland is deeply imaginative.
The moralizing themes of the titular tract -- and the convoluted way the script presents them -- weigh down the second half of "Tomorrowland," but that only barely detracts from the stunning visuals punctuating what resembles a functional amusement park. Maglev trains look like roller-coasters zipping around a plaza of skyscrapers, while a pristine blue sky characterizes a utopia that's both idealistic and utilitarian. Brad Bird and production designer Scott Chambliss ("Alias," "Star Trek") have created a landscape that begs for dreams to be dreamed and new horizons to be plowed.

britt robertson

3. Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key make fun cameos.
The film's action, centered on a world where collective humanity has shrugged off things like climate control and space exploration, kicks into high gear once Casey (Robertson) leaves home to figure out why she ended up with a mysterious yellow pin ornamented with a blue "T" that transports her to the faraway Tomorrowland. She finds a Texas memorabilia shop looking for the same item on eBay, and after traveling there, meets the kooky married owners whose robotic mannerisms quickly raise suspicions. They're played by Kathryn Hahn and Keegan-Michael Key, both game to embrace the silliness of their scene, which whips out the laser guns as soon as it's clear that these two are not what they seem. Cue clever "Star Wars" allusions throughout.

4. This is a rare non-franchise blockbuster with a great female role model at the center.
"Tomorrowland" is technically an existing property, but it doesn't squeeze into the same franchise category as, say, "The Hunger Games" or "Divergent," two recent literary adaptations with stellar female leads. We know nothing about the "Tomorrowland" players before the movie's first frame, which makes it all the more rewarding to take this journey with the ambitious Casey at its helm. That shouldn't need to be something we celebrate, but considering last year's highest-grossing non-franchise film with a female lead was the very silly "Lucy," it is. Vulture's David Edelstein called this the "anti-'Hunger Games,'" and that makes sense. Katniss Everdeen is worth rooting for, but it's nice to spend time with a heroine whose action sequences don't involve killing other kids or contending with the "faction" to which she must subscribe. That isn't to say the "I'd Love to Teach the World to Sing"-style ending works, but it does add a certain freshness when a movie doesn't need to position the female protagonist in terms of her willingness to take no prisoners or contend with "Fault in Our Stars"-esque tragedy.

britt robertson

5. Brad Bird and Co. do what most high-voltage blockbusters don't: They manage not to overclog the action.
If there's any reason to bypass comic-book movies -- and apparently there aren't many reasons, given their box-office stamina -- it's because most of them borrow the same plot beats and resort to similar cycles of endless action sequences sandwiched by slight exposition. But the action in "Tomorrowland" remains secondary to the plot. The script doesn't shy away from letting its characters talk, and even with glaring contrivances, it feels like (depressingly) new terrain to see a contemporary summer blockbuster grant its characters the space to think and breathe and brainstorm. That part of Bird's approach marks another quality that sets it apart from the many YA franchises serving action ahead of characterization.

"Tomorrowland" opens in wide release on May 22.


  • "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (May 1)
    Writen and directed by Joss Whedon

    Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba and Samuel L. Jackson

    What to expect: The first blockbuster out of the gate could bulldoze the entire summer lineup. The original "Avengers," released in 2012, raked in $1.5 billion worldwide and became the third highest-grossing movie of all time. Its follow-up looks much grimmer, but the ever-expanding cast -- which this time includes James Spader as Ultron, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue -- won't leave Marvel's merry brand of superheroes hunting for loose change. [Trailer]
  • "Hot Pursuit" (May 8)
    Warner Bros.
    Directed by Anne Fletcher • Written by David Feeney and John Quaintance

    Starring Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, Robert Kazinsky and John Carroll Lynch

    What to expect: The trailer didn't overwhelm us, but we'll buy tickets for anything that signals Reese Witherspoon's return to comedy. She plays a bumbling police officer who's called upon to protect the wife of a drug dealer (Sofia Vergara). [Trailer]
  • "Mad Max: Fury Road" (May 15)
    Warner Bros.
    Directed by George Miller • Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris

    Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Riley Keough and Zoë Kravitz

    What to expect: C'mon, have you seen the trailer? It is a smoking hot post-apocalyptic thrill ride with enough adrenaline to fuel a small nation. Directed by the same guy who made the 1979 original starring Mel Gibson, "Mad Max" looks like the summer's most promising reboot. [Trailer]
  • "Pitch Perfect 2" (May 15)
    Directed by Elizabeth Banks • Written by Kay Cannon

    Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Anna Camp and Hailee Steinfeld

    What to expect: The Barden Bellas are taking their act global, competing in a worldwide competition that no American group has ever won. If the trailers are reliable, prepare to hear "Before He Cheats," "Bootylicious," "Wrecking Ball" and “Run the World (Girls)" Don't miss it: "Pitch Perfect 3" is already warming up. [Trailer]
  • "Poltergeist" (May 22)
    20th Century Fox
    Directed by Gil Kenan • Written by David Lindsay-Abaire

    Starring Sam Rockwell, Jared Harris, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino and Kyle Catlett

    What to expect: Jared Harris is no Zelda Rubinstein, but we're intrigued by this cast nonetheless -- not to mention screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, who won the Pulitzer for "Rabbit Hole." The trouble will come in offering a fresh take on the 1982 original, which helped to set the template for haunted-house thrillers. [Trailer]
  • "Tomorrowland" (May 22)
    Directed by Brad Bird • Written by Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird

    Starring Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Kathryn Hahn, Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key and Judy Greer

    What to expect: Inspired by the Disney theme parks' futuristic vision of the same name, "Tomorrowland" casts George Clooney as an inventor who teams up with a curious teenager (Britt Robertson) to explore a mysterious place that transcends space and time. Disney has been teasing this movie since 2011, and it wasn't until last month's trailer teased something about parallel realities and fixing the future (nice to see you again, "Interstellar") that we got legitimate clues regarding the strange world(s) this movie inhabits. [Trailer]
  • "San Andreas" (May 29)
    Warner Bros.
    Directed by Brad Peyton • Written by Allan Loeb, Carlton Cuse, Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, Jeremy Passmore and Andre Fabrizio

    Starring Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatt, Kylie Minogue, Carla Gugino and Colton Haynes

    What to expect: Can Dwayne Johnson topline an action blockbuster as lucratively as he has the "Fast & Furious" sequels and brand-name fare like "Hercules" and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation"? He's pretty much selling this movie solo style, unless people are naturally inclined to see a $100 million disaster flick about a California earthquake. What's that you say? "The Day After Tomorrow" grossed $544 million? Oh, okay. [Trailer]
  • "Aloha" (May 29)
    Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
    Written and directed by Cameron Crowe

    Starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and John Krasinski

    What to expect: Aloha, Cameron Crowe! The "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous" director's Hawaii-set romantic dramedy has been in the offing since 2008, when Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon were cast and the movie was going to be called "Deep Tiki." Seven years later, "Aloha" probably won't provide the box office's sunniest receipts, but with a cast this great, don't discount it as a potential sleeper hit -- that is, if Amy Pascal's hacked condemnation doesn't bode poorly for its performance. [Trailer]
  • "Entourage" (June 3)
    Warner Bros.
    Written and directed by Doug Ellin

    Starring Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and a trillion other people

    What to expect: You know the drill. The on-again, off-again big-screen update of the HBO comedy is finally here. The movie is expected to pick up six months after the events of 2011's series finale, with Ari footing the bill for Vince's costly directorial debut. The guys filmed footage at January's Golden Globes, so we'll see what all of that was about soon enough. [Trailer]
  • "Spy" (June 5)
    20th Century Fox
    Written and directed by Paul Feig

    Starring Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Jude Law and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

    What to expect: The action comedy is Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig's third movie together following "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat." Early reviews out of South by Southwest were largely glowing, praising the dynamic between McCarthy and the ever-funny Rose Byrne. [Trailer]
  • "Insidious: Chapter 3" (June 5)
    Focus Features
    Written and directed by Leigh Whannell

    Starring Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell and Lin Shaye

    What to expect: This is the first "Insidious" entry not directed by James Wan. Also out of commission are Patrick Wilson and Rose Bryne, which makes sense because we're now in prequel territory. You will, however, see medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) alive again after appearing as a ghost in "Insidious: Chapter 2." In this one, a teenage girl faces paranormal hauntings. [Trailer]
  • "Jurassic World" (June 12)
    Directed by Colin Trevorrow • Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly

    Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson and B. D. Wong

    What to expect: After 14 years of endless development rumors, a new "Jurassic Park" is finally upon us -- and it stars Mr. Movie Star 2015 himself, Chris Pratt. We'll see what "Safety Not Guaranteed" director Colin Trevorrow -- the latest in a long line of indie auteurs who've transitioned to big-budget spectacles -- can cook up in Steven Spielberg's prehistoric lab. [Trailer]
  • "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" (June 12)
    Fox Searchlight
    Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon • Written by Jesse Andrews

    Starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, Jon Bernthal, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon and Connie Britton

    What to expect: Praised at Sundance as this summer's "The Fault in Our Stars," the twee "Me and Early and the Dying Girl" notched one of the festival's most lucrative distribution deals and won the grand jury prize. Based on Jesse Andrews' 2012 young-adult novel, this may just be the movie to rescue you from the summer's high-octane lineup. [Trailer]
  • "Inside Out" (June 19)
    Directed by Pete Docter • Written by Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley

    Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader. Mindy Kaling. Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan and John Ratzenberger

    What to expect: The season's most charming film, of course. Pixar's first new movie in two years will take us inside the mind of a teenage girl as she battles with the emotions that populate her head, each of whom is a distinct character (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust). Get ready: "Inside Out" will probably one of summer's highest-grossing releases. [Trailer]
  • "Ted 2" (June 26)
    Directed by Seth MacFarlane • Written by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild

    Starring Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Jessica Barth

    What to expect: Seth MacFarlane was dreaming up a "Ted" sequel before his dreadful hosting stint at the 2013 Oscars could convince anyone to turn their backs. So here we are. [Trailer]
  • "Terminator Genisys" (July 1)
    Directed by Alan Taylor • Written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier

    Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Matt Smith and J. K. Simmons

    What to expect: Arnold is back, this time with a new John Connor (Jason Clarke), Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). The war against the machines rages on in the franchise's time-travelling fifth installment, which has yet to explain why it thinks "Genisys" is a word. [Trailer]
  • "Magic Mike XXL" (July 1)
    Warner Bros.
    Directed by Gregory Jacobs • Written by Reid Carolin and Channing Tatum

    Starring Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Adam Rodriguez, Gabriel Iglesias, Andie Macdowell, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith and Elizabeth Banks

    What to expect: Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey and Steven Soderbergh have bid Xquisite adieu, but we have faith that "XXL" will indeed be a super-sized sequel. This one finds the boys traveling to a stripping convention in South Carolina. Along the way, raise a glass to Channing Tatum, Screenwriter. [Trailer]
  • "Minions" (July 10)
    Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda • Written by Brian Lynch

    Starring Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney and Steve Coogan

    What to expect: MONEY. Monumental foreign grosses left "Despicable Me 2" just shy of $1 billion. Expect the franchise's third outing -- technically a spin-off -- to be one of summer's most profitable titles, even without Steve Carell's Felonious Gru on hand. [Trailer]
  • "Ant-Man" (July 17)
    Directed by Peyton Reed • Written by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd

    Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña, Judy Greer and Michael Douglas

    What to expect: "Ant-Man" is Marvel's second title of the summer, and all eyes will be looking to glean whether its box-office haul lives up to the studio's precedent. After the movie gestated for 13 years, director Edgar Wright dropped out due to reported battles with Marvel president Kevin Feige. But who are we kidding? This is Paul Rudd in a comic-book movie. It's safe to assume people will buy tickets. [Trailer]
  • "Trainwreck" (July 17)
    Michael Buckner via Getty Images
    Directed by Judd Apatow • Written by Amy Schumer

    Starring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James, Vanessa Bayer, Brie Larson and Colin Quinn

    What to expect: Amy Schumer is making her big-screen debut in this comedy about a commitment-phobic magazine writer who may have to rethink her approach to dating after she meets a winning gent (Bill Hader). "Trainwreck" was a hit at its South by Southwest premiere, giving us summer's best hope for a traditional rom-com. Oh, and say hello to LeBron James, Movie Star. [Trailer]
  • "Pan" (July 24)
    Warner Bros.
    UPDATE, April 20: Never mind, Warner Bros. has delayed this movie until Oct. 9 to avoid competing with the others on this list.

    Directed by Joe Wright • Written by Jason Fuchs

    Starring Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Amanda Seyfried and Cara Delevingne

    What to expect: Joe Wright is known for sweeping period pieces like "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," and it doesn't appear that he's abandoned those sensibilities for this live-action "Peter Pan" update. It offers origin stories for the titular boy and Captain Hook, played in his younger days by Garrett Hedlund. [Trailer]
  • "Paper Towns" (July 24)
    20th Century Fox
    Directed by Jake Schreier • Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber

    Starring Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith and Austin Abrams

    What to expect: We already christened "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" the next "Fault in Our Stars," so let's call "Paper Towns" the next "Godfather" -- if Nat Wolff is to be believed. Teens (and adults alike) will line up once again at the John Green Tabernacle, this time with fewer tear-drenched reactions. [Trailer]
  • "Pixels" (July 24)
    Directed by Chris Columbus • Written by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling

    Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad and Jane Krakowski

    What to expect: We're dubious of anything that asks Adam Sandler and Kevin James to share screentime, but the premise of "Pixels" -- in which Pac-Man and other arcade characters rampage Earth -- sounds too fun to pass up. Plus, it has Peter Dinklage with a mullet and a laser canon. [Trailer]
  • "Southpaw" (July 24)
    The Weinstein Company
    Directed by Antoine Fuqua • Written by Kurt Sutter and Richard Wenk

    Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

    What to expect: After the triple threat of "Prisoners," "Enemy" and "Nightcrawler," we will follow Jake Gyllenhaal into the day after tomorrow (and every day after that). In "Southpaw," he plays a onetime, wildly jacked boxer attempting to stage a career comeback. [Trailer]
  • "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (July 31)
    Directed by Christopher McQuarrie • Written by Drew Pearce and Will Staples

    Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin

    What to expect: If all you operating thetans out there can still stomach Tom Cruise movies, here's Ethan Hunt assembling his crew to take down an enigmatic group of assassins known as the Syndicate. [Trailer]
  • "Vacation" (July 31)
    Warner Bros.
    Written and directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

    Starring Starring Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day

    What to expect: Rusty Griswold is all grown up, but he's staying true to good ol' dad by road-tripping across the country to Walley World, which is about to close its doors forever. Whether the "National Lampoon's Vacation" franchise still has juice in it will soon be seen, but fear not: The elder Griswolds (Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo) do make a cameo.
  • "Fantastic Four" (Aug. 7)
    20th Century Fox
    Directed by Josh Trank • Written by Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater

    Starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson

    What to expect: Milers Teller has teased a "more mature approach" to this particular "Fantastic Four" reboot, which offers origin stories for Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and Sue Storm (Kate Mara). [Trailer]
  • "Ricki and the Flash" (Aug. 7)
    Directed by Jonathan Demme • Written by Diablo Cody

    Starring Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield and Audra McDonald

    What to expect: We'll have to endure a lot of supersized visual effects before getting to this summer's real highlight: Meryl Streep singing Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen hits as the frontwoman of a cover band -- in a movie from Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs") and Diablo Cody ("Juno"), no less. We would give up every summer movie for this one. Every. Single. One.
  • "Straight Outta Compton" (Aug. 14)
    Directed by F. Gary Gray • Written by Jonathan Herman, Alan Wenkus, S. Leigh Savidge and Andrea Berloff

    Starring Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr, Paul Giamatti and Keith Stanfield

    What to expect: In a time when racist police brutality is at the fore of America's culture wars, a biopic about N.W.A. -- whose debut album, "Straight Outta Compton," rebelled against authoritative abuse -- is especially timely. The film will chronicle the seminal hip-hop group's rise and fall. [Trailer]
  • "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (Aug. 14)
    Warner Bros.
    Directed by Guy Ritchie • Written by Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie

    Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Hugh Grant, Elizabeth Debicki and Alicia Vikander

    What to expect: So many big-name directors (Steven Soderbergh!) and stars (Ryan Gosling! Leonardo DiCaprio!) were considered for this film at one point or another that we can't help but remain curious. Henry Cavill hasn't made a movie since "Man of Steel," but let's see if his comedic chops pay proper tribute to the 1960s spy classic. [Trailer]