Tomorrowland is the most expensive movie that Joe Dante never got a chance to make. It’s a lot of fun, a creative blast of thoughtful ideas and colorful imagery, trading off of familiar properties while still retaining a unique identity to call its own. For a film to be this dependent on CGI and special effects, for the most part, the visuals are stunning, due in large part to Claudio Miranda’s luminous cinematography. This is the genius who shot The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Life of Pi, and as such, Tomorrowland has a twinkle-glisten aesthetic that’s beyond eye-catching. The busy – and I mean busy – plot involves so many elaborate ingredients, and while the finale spends a bit too much time with people explaining stuff rather than showing, it’s a minor quibble to lob at a $180 million gamble (given that it’s not based on a toy or a comic book or a lunch pail or a remake of something) that clearly has tons on its energetic and fertile imagination. Gee-whiz filmmaker Brad Bird and co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen throw in allusions to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz, Indiana Jones, Epcott Center and good old Walt Disney himself, television’s Lost, with nods to real life inventors and scientists whose greatest achievements might have been even greater if they had the opportunity to play with the technology of today and tomorrow. There’s a wide-eyed wonder to much of Tomorrowland, carrying a massive whiff of Amblin-inspired Spielberg movie-magic, with The Beard’s influence felt over much of the film, from having children act as fearless lead protagonists, adults who need to be shown the way, and a bright eyed optimism that extends from the themes to the visuals. This is as earnest of a blockbuster as I can think of, crafted with a ton of heart, never feeling shallow, if for no other reason than it just so clearly wants to be seen as an alarm for what might occur to our planet if we don’t stop and look around to see what it is we’re doing to the place we call home. Yes, Tomorrowland is as liberal as it gets, with Clooney essentially playing a version of Bill Maher (minus the cursing), and the core of the story involves an incredibly overt plea for environmental activism. As it should. We’ve been destroying our planet with casual disregard for years, and we absolutely love paying next to no attention to the consequences; climate change deniers will positively hate this film, and I’m glad, because it further underscores the diseased notions that these monumental asses are espousing to weak willed individuals who look to Fox News for their main source of daily information. Brad Bird, no stranger to blockbusting with a touch of the humanistic (Ratatouille, The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), directs as if he were making a live action Pixar movie – anything, and I mean anything – is possible in the world of Tomorrowland. The PG-rating, as is customary for a Spielberg-influenced production (his name may not be on it but there’s no way this film would have been made without his iconic cinematic contributions), is stretched to the max, and while kids will enjoy the incredible sights and sounds, the themes and messages are going to sore way over their heads. As I said up top – this felt at times like a passionate movie from the likes of 80’s master Joe Dante (Explorers, Matinee, Innerspace, Gremlins) – a filmmaker who always brought a sense of awe and wonder to his efforts. Britt Robertson is going to be a BIG star; she’s got a wonderfully expressive face and the perfect type of optimistic attitude to bring to a project such has this. And wow, loved the performance from Raffey Cassidy, who makes you care in all the correct spots. And as always, Clooney is the reliable anchor, allowing himself to be continually upstaged by his younger co-stars, while navigating the demands of a summer blockbuster with grace and class. I only hope that parents take their kids to see this instead of upcoming schwill like Pixels or more-of-the-same from Marvel Studios. Embrace the idea that sometimes a family movie can be made that isn’t afraid to show some mental creativity to go along with the special effects.