Flight of fantasy remains short on ingenuity

Britt Robertson and George Clooney in Tomorrowland  PA/Walt Disney/Kimberley French
Britt Robertson and George Clooney in Tomorrowland PA/Walt Disney/Kimberley French

For a big budget fantasy which vociferously encourages children to dream, Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is disappointingly - and ironically - short on invention and ingenuity.

Director Brad Bird, who cast early cinematic spells in animation with The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, engineers a trio of slick set pieces in the opening hour.

In particular, his female protagonist’s first glimpse of the titular kingdom is a breath-taking assault on the senses including the haunting image of synchronised divers somersaulting downwards into circular pools of water suspended one above another.

Once the cogs of a preposterous plot begin to whir, any exhilaration quickly dissipates, leaving us to slog through an exceedingly pedestrian second hour that is heavy on exposition and light on wonder.

As soon as one character starts ranting about a secret brotherhood founded by Gustave Eiffel, Thomas Edison, Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla - a narrative thread that might have come untangled from Dan Brown’s outlandish Da Vinci Code - all hope is lost.

Aside from a pair of duelling robots, casually introduced into the underwhelming finale, it’s difficult to see what will hold the attention of young children, who aren’t already asleep or kicking the chair in front of them in boredom.

At the 1964 New York World Fair, young inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) fails to impress judge David Nix (Hugh Laurie) with his misfiring jetpack.

However, the boy does catch the eye of an enigmatic girl called Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who gives Frank a lapel pin emblazoned with a capital T that magically grants him access to a parallel dimension called Tomorrowland. Eventually, Frank is banished from the fantastical realm and his beloved Athena.

Many years later, Frank (now played by George Clooney) is a grizzled recluse, haunted by the past. A spirited woman called Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), who has glimpsed this futuristic realm by touching her own lapel pin, gatecrashes Frank’s life at the most inopportune moment.

“You’ve been manipulated to believe you’re part of something incredible,” Frank warns Casey as they travel back to Tomorrowland to discover the fairy tale realm has been corrupted beyond recognition.

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond has teasing flashes of the beguiling flight of fantasy that Bird surely intended.A high-speed pursuit with robot assassins around Frank’s booby-trap laden home is executed at a pace, and rising star Cassidy, from Worsley near Manchester, outshines Clooney and Robertson in their underwritten roles.

However, a framing device which allows Frank and Casey to jointly narrate the story - and constantly bicker - grates and is ultimately superfluous.

Somewhere between Bird’s plodding direction in the second act and his convoluted script co-written by Damon Lindelof, Tomorrowland becomes a test of endurance rather than a pulse-quickening tumble down the rabbit hole of the human spirit.

RATING: 5/10