‘Tomorrowland’ Is A Smarmy, Magical Realist Disaster

Disney’s Tomorrowland overtly seeks to be a beacon of hopefulness in a cynical world, as foretold in the lyrics of every bad sitcom theme song from eighties. But even if you consider that a worthwhile goal (and I do), there’s a key flaw in its methods. At no point does it seem to comprehend that all-important distinction between making people laugh and telling people to laugh. They’ll throw roses at you for the first, dildos at you for the second. As a result, rather than giving us something to be hopeful about, Tomorrowland just exhorts us to smile for two hours like a deranged cheer coach. Its only explanation of why we should be more hopeful is “because hope is better than despair!”

Yikes, that’s a reactionary kind of “hope,” isn’t it? That’s not the kind of hope that’s contagious, it’s the kind of hope that makes you wonder how bad it really is. The kind of thing someone tells you on your way to the euthanasia needle so you don’t squirm.

The story follows a teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), whose father is an out-of-work NASA engineer played by Tim McGraw, and whose mother is absent because this is a Disney movie and plucky teens never have mothers in Disney movies. (To Tomorrowland‘s minor credit, there’s no tearful scene that explains where mom is and she never shows up in a locket like in Super 8). Casey spends her nights trying to sabotage the cranes taking apart shuttle launch equipment at Cape Canaveral and her days cheering up dad and wondering why her high school teachers focus only on the world’s problems (global warming, famines, droughts, war) and never on the world’s solutions. (Probably because they’re teachers, not inventors). She’s a prodigy, a pro-science terrorist, a relentless believer in mankind’s ingenuity, and her family’s rock all rolled into one, not to mention model pretty, with a flawless figure and big, pouty lips with a cleft in the bottom (Britt Robertson is also 25, and looks it). The movie tries to hide her (or at least tries to make it look like they’re trying to hide her) underneath ball caps and hoodies, but you can’t turn Gisele into Annie, and a woman this conventionally beautiful constantly telling you to cheer up kind of feels like a toothpaste commercial.

Early in the film, Casey tells her dad “the story about the two wolves.” This was apparently her bedtime story growing up, and it goes something like: “There are two wolves fighting inside of all of us: one represents lightness and hope, the other darkness and despair. Which one wins?”

(Answer: “The one you feed.”)

Now, you could insert virtually any animal into this dumb parable (squirrels, lizards, tigers, sloths) and the message (“buck up, fella!”) would stay the same. My question: why wolves? Last I checked, wolves aren’t known for fighting, they’re known for hunting in packs. The wolf story is a perfect microcosm of Tomorrowland: a flawed metaphor to illustrate a vague, smarmy platitude. And not an original metaphor either, one pulled from your religious aunt’s email forwards. (“Listen up, little Jimmy. Have I ever told you the story of how your soul is made of 10 ferrets f*cking?”)

At some point, Casey finds her golden ticket to Tomorrowland, a parallel dimension (I think?) where the world’s best scientists and artists have used their talents to create a super advanced civilization living in a magical world of possibility. How do we know when Casey has landed in this dimension, by the way? Because she appears in a golden field of sun-drenched wheat under a cornflower sky. You know where else I saw blue skies and golden wheat represent hope and positivity? In Heaven Is For Real.

Turns out, Tomorrowland‘s vision of techno utopia looks a lot like a heartland-pandering God parable. It’s selling pretty much the same kind of reactionary optimism, where an evil psychiatrist can’t see a little boy’s vision of heaven, the same way a depressed dad can’t get to Tomorrowland just by touching the button like his daughter: in both cases, they’re doomed simply by their failure to imagine a bright future. And yes, I’m deliberately using “bright future” here the same way Stalin’s propaganda did.