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Just Like Its Theme Park Namesake, 'Tomorrowland' Celebrates Optimism


For decades, Tomorrowland has been a Disney theme park area. And now, like the Disney ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, it has lent its name to a big-budget movie. Bob Mondello says the movie version of Tomorrowland is designed, just like its theme park namesake, to celebrate optimism.

BOB MONDELLO: Near the outset of "Tomorrowland," a teenager named Casey sneaks into Cape Canaveral in the middle of the night to disable the cranes that are dismantling the launch pad there. She hates the idea that NASA is giving up on space travel, and while her little act of sabotage gets her arrested, her enthusiasm for futile gestures gets her noticed by someone besides the police, someone who slipped something in with the belongings she gets back when she's released from jail.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As police officer) One money clip, $47.32, one Florida state driver's license, one pack of Beemans gum and whatever that is.

MONDELLO: That is a pin with the letter T on it, presumably for Tomorrowland - not the theme park, the real place.


BRITT ROBERTSON: (As Casey Newton) That's not mine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (As police officer) What's not yours?

ROBERTSON: (As Casey Newton) The pin.

MONDELLO: She touches it.


ROBERTSON: (As Casey Newton) I've never - (screaming).

MONDELLO: And suddenly, she's in a golden field of wheat stretching to the horizon and a glittering city. Is it Oz? No, Disney already went there. Anyway, Casey's thrilled by this shiny, happy place with its floating trains and shimmering skyscrapers and a kind of synchronized diving where it's the swimming pools that are synchronized, not the divers.

Where'd the T pin come from, she wonders. Is any of this real? Is it the future maybe? Then, after a few minutes of visual enchantment, the T pin stops working and, in a sense, so does the movie, which is not to say nothing else happens. Casey will join forces with a girl who's sort of an adolescent Mary Poppins and a one-time boy inventor who's grown-up to be a cranky, old coot played by George Clooney.


GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Frank Walker) Come on.

MONDELLO: Together, these three will have noisy, frantic adventures at the Eiffel Tower and a movie memorabilia store and a booby-trapped house.


CLOONEY: (As Frank Walker) Get in.

ROBERTSON: (As Casey Newton) How is this a good idea?

MONDELLO: Each location envisioned in theme-park-friendly ways, but pretty early on, the sense of fun in their carousing...


CLOONEY: (As Frank Walker) Hang on.

MONDELLO: ...Starts getting swamped by a message that director Brad Bird seems determined to state and restate until the dimmest 10-year-old in the audience gets it - the message that there is simply not enough optimism in the world, that humanity has become apathetic, cynical, discouraged, and that we've really got to snap out of it, because by simply dreaming big, we could fix the world's problems.

This is, let's note, more sloganeering than imagineering, but let that pass. The sentiments are certainly admirable and are, no doubt, heartfelt and are delivered so insistently and passionately that, while "Tomorrowland's" sermonizing left me feeling grumpy and feeling a little guilty for feeling grumpy, it may well have an entirely different effect on impressionable children, who are, after all, its target audience. I wouldn't be surprised if they emerge inspired by a sense of purpose they did not have on the way in and a mission to get one of those T pins. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF "TOMORROWLAND" SOUNDTRACK) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.