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Casey (Britt Robertson) finds a pin that gives her strange visions in Tomorrowland (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)


If you watch the trailers for Tomorrowland—or if you just consider the fact that it’s a Disney film named after a Disney theme-park attraction—you have a pretty good idea what to expect: It’s going to offer an optimistic view of a future in which technology is used to cure the world’s ills.

Surprisingly, it’s not like that at all. Even more surprisingly, it might have been more satisfying if it had been.

There’s a part near the beginning when it briefly lives up to expectations. A young boy named Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) visits the 1964 New York World’s Fair to show off the flawed jet pack he built from an old vacuum cleaner.

There he meets a girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who gives him a strange pin that turns out to be the key to a magic kingdom of sorts. It allows him access to a hidden world filled with gleaming structures and giant robots. One of the robots even fixes his jet pack, allowing him to soar above the exotic landscape.

After seeing this glorious scene, you might be fooled into thinking this Disney-fied view of the future is what the story is about.

But it’s not. Or maybe it is. Hard to say. At any rate, it’s a long time before we’re allowed to return to this world, and even when we do, we’re not sure just what it’s supposed to represent.

Meanwhile, we jump forward a few decades to meet Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a brainy teenager who spends her nights trying to sabotage NASA’s efforts to shut down the installation where her father works.

Why is NASA shutting it down? Again, hard to say. The film is not big on details.

The important thing is that the mysterious Athena shows up and surreptitiously gives Casey another of those magical pins. The pin brings Casey inexplicable visions of a futuristic world, but it also places her in the crosshairs of some vicious robot-type beings. Eventually, it brings her into contact with Frank, who has become an embittered middle-age recluse played by George Clooney.

Why is Frank so bitter? Why are the robots so vicious? What is that futuristic world, and what does it have to do with Casey?

Tomorrowland takes a l-o-o-o-n-g time providing answers to such questions, and some of those answers are rather vague. This won’t surprise anyone who knows the script was co-written by Damon Lindelof, best known for the TV’s endlessly cryptic Lost.

In the meantime, director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) manages to remind us of movies such as The Terminator, Transformers and even Kick-Ass (the action is startlingly rough for a Disney flick). What he doesn’t manage to do is make us care about whether Frank and Casey find that futuristic world.

We’re led to believe that Earth won’t survive unless they do, but Bird shows us little evidence that our extinction is imminent. Nor does he convince us that this hidden world is Earth’s potential savior.

On the plus side, Tomorrowland’s heart is in the right place. It preaches that our planet is in trouble and it’s up to each of us to save it. But the ultimate message is as simplistic as the plot is garbled, suggesting that things will get better if we all just keep a positive outlook.

I would have felt better if it preached that modern technology will cure the world’s ills—especially if that technology involved, say, renewable energy.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Tomorrowland, rated PG, opens Friday (May 22) in theaters nationwide.