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Movie Review

We thought we'd have flying cars by now.

Oh sure, our smartphones are cool and all. When I was a kid back in the early '80s, I never thought I'd have a wallet-sized something that would give me directions and surf the Internet (whatever that was) and play video games and—get this—make calls. Crazy. But still, when I think back on my childhood imaginings of personal jet packs and warp-speed spaceships, the future now seems a little … disappointing.

Were our childhood fantasies too big for the future? Or did we, as we grew up and our dreams grew smaller and more realistic, make our future smaller, too? Did we trade in a horizon as big as the universe for one that fits comfortably in our pocket?

You can't accuse Casey Newton of thinking small. The high school firebrand has always dreamed big and, frankly, she's getting a little sick of the future's diminishing returns. Some governmental muckety-mucks are dismantling NASA's Cape Canaveral launching pad, and when it's done, Casey's father—a NASA engineer—will be out of a job. At school, she's drummed with a thudding tempo of negativity: melting ice caps in science class, global sociopolitical tension in civics, George Orwell's 1984 in English. The future doesn't look just small. It looks dangerous. Broken.

"I get that things are bad," Casey asks a teacher. "But what can we do to fix it?"

The bell rings before anyone can answer.

So Casey's on her own, trying to salvage the future alone—beginning unwisely with her dad's. Every night she tries to sabotage the launch pad dismemberment project … until the security guards get wise and get her arrested.

When her none-too-pleased pop bails her out, she finds a mysterious pin in her belongings. She reaches to touch it and—

She's in a wheat field with a soaring city beyond, gleaming and bright. It's a metropolis full of wonder, of rocket ships and blue pools, of jet packs and flying cars.

She takes her hand off the pin and she's back in the precinct holding room, the fluorescent lights flickering across the grime, the cheap tile floors, the felons in handcuffs. She's back in real time now, where each tick of the clock takes her into an ever smaller future. Each tick of the clock brings her (along with everyone and everything she loves) closer to the end.

But she's seen another future now—one powered by hope. And she'll do almost anything to go back there. (Or go forward there.)

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Positive Elements

Dystopian fiction is big in the entertainment world these days. From books to movies to television shows, our media choices are dominated by these bleak depictions of the future. Tomorrowland takes a different tack: The future is what we make it. And we don't have to make a future full of nuclear war, rising waters and infected zombies.

This is not to say that everything is perfect in Casey's Tomorrowland. She discovers that the place has gone very much awry. So she and a couple of one-time citizens of the place—cantankerous Frank Walker and what looks to be a tweenage girl named Athena—must take some serious risks to set it and the rest of the world on the right track again. They put themselves in great peril and risk their lives for one another and, most importantly, for the future itself.

Along the way, we get a rather poignant lecture from the big ol' bad guy, of all people, about how we wrongly embrace the global prognosis of dystopia because we actually kind of like the idea that making "peace" with a bitter future allows us to do nothing at all about it in the here and now. Accepting the "fact" of your certain demise, in other words, prompts you to get lazy. And so when Frank asks Casey if she would want to know the date of her death, she says "sure," but then tells him she wouldn't believe what he said because she's certain she has some semblance of personal control over her destiny.

We hear about Frank and Athena's prickly but ultimately loving relationship, and about Casey's deep regard for her supportive, caring father.

Spiritual Content

A story told about feuding wolves is reminiscent of our spiritual and fleshly natures that the Bible talks about in Ephesians 2:1-3, Galatians 5:16-17 and John 3:6. (More on that later.)

Sexual Content

[Spoiler Warning] Athena isn't a real girl. She's a realistically human-looking android who "recruited" Frank Walker into the Tomorrowland fold when he was just a boy. At that time, Frank developed a crush on Athena, but she (being a robot and all) was unable to requite his affection, leading to a falling out. But underneath those hard feelings, Frank, even as an adult, still looks like a guy who never completely gave up his crush. So while their future relationship is chaste and lightly humorous, Athena still looks like a 12-year-old girl and Frank looks like, well, George Clooney, which can make things sometimes feel a little … ooky?

Violent Content

Casey, Frank and Athena are repeatedly chased by "evil" robots wielding vaporizing guns. As such, a few innocent humans are zapped into nonexistence, their bodies vanishing into clouds of blue dust.

They all fight back with flurries of hits and kicks and flying leaps. We see one of the robots get skewered by a metal pole. Another has its face smashed by a baseball bat. Others have their hands chopped off or are partly swallowed by strange, portable multidimensional portals. One has its head ripped off. (When the charred skull is later examined, it still talks.) They occasionally fall from extreme heights and, well, explode.

Personal jet packs are apparently more dangerous than I had thought as a kid. Frank, the child inventor of the thing, tumbles and skids across a field while trying out his prototype. (It's the type of event that in real life would result in a speedy trip to the hospital if not a sad call to the morgue. But here, the worst of Frank's injuries is a bloodied chin.) He jet-skips across a lake like a stone. Others crash into things and, sometimes, one another. (In Tomorrowland proper, "riders" are equipped with inflatable safety suits, preventing serious injury.)

Casey runs into invisible walls and falls down invisible stairs. A force field sends both Casey and Frank flying. Athena is hit by a truck. (She eventually shakes it off and keeps going.) Frank and Casey use a small metal stick to knock people unconscious. A guard dog barks and lunges ferociously. A few buildings explode.

Crude or Profane Language

"H---" gets flung around in this PG Disney movie at least a half-dozen times, "d--n" three times. We hear "p---" once, along with "bloody" and "b--locks." Characters also say "son of a …" before trailing off. God's name is misused a handful of times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Casey's father worries that she's doing drugs. It's a charge she strenuously denies, but she does admit to trying a beer.

Other Negative Elements

Casey's constantly doing stuff—sometimes illegal stuff—behind her dad's back. As mentioned, she sneaks off at night to sabotage the demolition of the NASA launch pad. And when her little brother asks her if that's what she's doing, she says, "That would make me a criminal and a pretty terrible role model to someone such as yourself." When she finds the pin, she sneaks out of the house again. She and her brother break into their father's computer to research the pin, and when Casey finds a possible lead in Houston, she hops on a bus bound for that city—telling her brother to lie for her and say she's on a camping trip with friends.

Casey later apologizes to her dad (via answering machine), but doesn't come clean as to what she's been up to until the very end of the movie.

She and Athena steal a car. They and Frank engage in some dangerous/violent deeds at the Eiffel Tower that run, presumably, afoul of French law. As a child, Frank cuts through lines and hops on a restricted "It's a Small World" boat—activities that, if replicated, would, ironically, anger employees at Disney World.

Before a wild trip, Frank cautions Casey not to "pee" on everyone.

Conclusion

Tomorrowland, at one point, retells a tale teased out of a Cherokee Indian legend. In the fable, two wolves are locked in constant combat: One represents darkness and arrogance and sorrow. The other represents hope and joy and love. We're asked which wolf wins.

"The one you feed," Casey tells us.

Tomorrowland comes with some unfortunate filler. It's violent. It could've done without the bad language. And its environmental references to melting glaciers and dying bees take a complex sociopolitical issue and turn it into a one-dimensional creed.

But when the whole thing is said and done, and you're thinking about the movie from the vantage point of, well, tomorrow, you'll realize that Disney is selling something very rare on the market these days: optimism. That optimism is deeply rooted in Disney's ethos—stemming, it would seem, from Walt Disney himself. His theme-park visions of Tomorrowland and Epcot (his brainchildren, though he never lived to see the latter completed) are rooted in a belief that if we're not afraid to dream, and we're determined to work toward that dream, the future can be a bright place indeed.

Tomorrowland isn't all sunshine, but it feeds the right wolf.

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Plot Summary

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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