‘Tomorrowland’
Director:
Brad Bird
Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson
Rating: PG
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Tomorrowland” is not just another Disney theme park movie. It’s been completely co-opted by its eccentric filmmaker, animator-turned-live action director Brad Bird, who can do what he wants after “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” and the last “Mission: Impossible.” And so he has: thinking way outside the box, he’s taken a sorry assignment — make a blockbuster about not a Disneyland ride but a Disneyland area — and turned it into an often times delightfully strange, only sometimes creepily Ayn Randian ode to genius unfettered by pesky second-guessers and evil bureaucrats. Futuristic mega-metropolis Tomorrowland is not a cool park stuffed with the cool, retro futurist concepts dreamed up by Walt Disney himself but a state of mind, literally.

Our guide into this alternate universe is Casey (Britt Robertson), a young, plucky tech wizard, and the possible token Chosen One savior of the titular special realm, once a thriving hub of fantastical gadgets, now an urban wasteland run by David Nix (Hugh Laurie), a grouchy despot with a yen for withering sarcasm. She’s helped along by Athena, an English-accented little girl robot played with precocious cool by Raffey Cassidy. Later she picks up Frank Walker (George Clooney), a former boy inventor turned grumpy hermit, long ago exiled by David. And all this somehow all has to do with global warming.

There’s a big speech late in about humankind’s hostility towards saving the planet they destroyed, and it that’s not subtle even for a blob of liberal-minded entertainment. But “Tomorrowland” is an entertaining entertainment, even when its many parts aren’t quite fitting together. At its best it gets caught up in the moment and inside its set pieces and sometimes snaky, convoluted plot structure. It takes 45 minutes for Casey to happen upon Frank, then another half hour to get inside Tomorrowland, but the film has an unpredictable and gee-whiz tone — plus Bird’s confidence with movie-building — that makes following it wherever addictive, even if you’re not sure where it’s going, if it’s anywhere at all.

This is at once loosely structured and remarkably clean for a summer movie, and it’s almost refreshing to see an outsized climax that’s not so outsized, and even, in its way, modest, though the slight capper also means Bird, and co-writer Damon Lindelof, do very little with some of their better ideas. (A machine that can teleport people anywhere on earth only gets one spin.) They pack the film with robots and gizmos and doodads; the harsh but cartoonish violence (guns that turn people into dust or goo) makes this a hard-PG — or a regular PG back in the 1980s or 1990s, an era of nerdy, edgy kiddie fare to which “Tomorrowland” is enjoyably indebted. It summons something like “The Flight of the Navigator,” only better plotted and with up-to-date f/x. 

“Tomorrowland” mostly charms its way out of its problems, and even goes relatively light on Bird’s Objectivist leanings, which he likes to embed in movies as couldn’t-resist subtext. As in “The Incredibles,” he has an odd habit of making nerds out to be baddies, while Tomorrowland itself is described as though it were the John Galt compound from “Atlas Shrugged”: a place where the brilliant can thrive, “free of politics, bureaucracy, greed.” It turns out to be slightly more complicated than that, but even if it wasn’t, Bird still — as in “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” — has a peerless knack for turning questionable ideas into beautifully made and deeply involving romps that nearly fool you into buying its crackpot ideas.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge