Tomorrowland: Nostalgia plays a big part in Disney's future

Tomorrowland. Directed by Brad Bird. Starring Britt Robertson, George Clooney and Hugh Laurie. Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Disney knows a thing or two about parallel universes.

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I learned this first-hand at Tokyo Disneyland. Thanks to friends in high places I was whisked to a hidden, secret door at the base of the then-new Big Thunder Mountain ride. Inside the bowels of the ride was a hidden oasis: a bar, a small movie theatre complete with starry sky, and a soundproof viewing window from which to watch the ride come rollicking by.

I got that same feeling watching Tomorrowland, Disney's film about an alternate technological utopia that exists right under our noses.

Few people are granted access to this world. The first is a young boy, who will later grow up to be George Clooney, who is given a Tomorrowland badge by a mysterious girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) at the 1964 World Fair (where, fittingly, the It's A Small World ride was premiered). Immediately, Frank claims, his life started to unravel, making him the paranoid, cranky, doomsday-prepper he grew to become.

The other person to receive a pin is perpetually curious Casey Newton (Britt Robertson). She remains optimistic about the future despite the doom-and-gloomsday scenarios they're espousing at school and the fact that her dad, a NASA engineer (Tim McGraw), is currently witnessing the dismantlement of the space

program. (As in Interstellar, the end of NASA seems to signal the advent of the apocalypse.)

Events lead Casey to pound on Frank's door, asking a crazy man to tell her she's not crazy. The duo embark on a voyage through space, time and dimensions, complete with car chases and a rocketship secreted inside the Eiffel Tower.

The future has figured out how to marry nature with technology: Tomorrowland is a shiny island surrounded by a sea of yellow wheat fields. There are flying trains (The Jetsons cartoons of my youth fully realized) and Hugh Laurie, looking dapper in leather jodphurs.

Co-written by Damon Lindelof and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) Tomorrowland harkens back to several other smart kid-centric films like Super 8, or The Rocketeer. The nostalgia factor will entertain parents,

the action is sure to satisfy kids. Girl power gets a serious boost from Casey and Athena: smart, brave, and unafraid to challenge jaded authority figures.

Those who complain that the movie's message of conservation and push for innovation is less-than-subtle need reminding that Tomorrowland is a children's film, after all. And an intelligent live-action kids' film - with nary a fart joke in sight - is such a rarity these days that some people don't know what to make of it.

The movie does more than celebrate doom and disaster, it asks viewers to do something about it. It's not part of a franchise, it peddles marvel and wonder instead of sexualized violence and mayhem, and it makes youngsters and their parents think, which amounts to a beautiful $190-million gamble at the summer blockbuster crap table.

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