Y'know, I REALLY want to like this film. I think that at its base it has an important message that genius and innovation REQUIRES a supportive society to thrive and that it doesn't take much to stifle both to the detriment of all, but unfortunately the heart of the story is pure fantasy.
The movie begins with an elder, salt-and-pepper-haired Frank Walker (George Clooney) giving a speech getting interrupted by Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) mostly off-camera. Eventually he begins to tell his tale of how he was introduced to Tomorrowland back at the 1964 World's Fair at NYC as a young boy of about 10. There he goes to the INNOVATIONS exhibit where he tries to show off his jet pack which kinda-sorta works. The gentleman behind the desk, Nix (Hugh Laurie), dismisses the young Frank but a young girl behind desk, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), spies something about Frank that she likes. While Frank leaves and mopes in front of the exhibit, Athena meets him and puts a pin on Frank's jacket, inviting him to follow her. Nix and Athena are joined by a number of other people and they get into a boat for the "It's a Small World" ride (which was actually at that World's Fair before later being moved to Disneyland). There is something odd going on because the people in charge of the ride let a couple of empty boats go after that boat with Nix and Athena and company, but Frank clambers after them and sneaks onto one of those empty boats. Soon after Frank's boat makes a turn just after entering "It's a Small World" proper, Frank sees a beam flash out from one of towers within the ride onto his pin, then a segment of the ride opens in front of his boat and he is taken to another layer of the ride. Eventually his boat docks and voice instructs him to enter the booth in front of him. Although anxious, Frank complies and is whisked away to Tomorrowland where after a series of (mis-)adventures he catches up with Athena and Nix.
At this point we return to Frank giving his speech being interrupted again by Casey. Frank gives up and tells Casey to tell her story.
The time is about NOW. Casey lives near the Kennedy Space Center with her brother and her father who is a nearly out-of-work space engineer still working for NASA as a contractor deconstructing one of the now-unused gantries at KSC. In the middle of the night Casey sneaks off to that gantry and with a number of devices at hand she makes sure that she is not being observed by the guards at the site then gets onto the gantry to sabotage the deconstruction machinery. After Casey returns home, we are shown Athena--still looking like a 12-year-old girl--after some preparation dropping a pin into Casey's helmet that she wore while riding her motorcycle.
In the morning before going off to school, her father tells her that he has gotten a call from work saying that something
happened overnight so he won't be going in, BUT the powers-that-be are shipping something out and that he'll be back at work tearing down the gantry after noon. Casey shrugs but is frustrated that she wasn't more effective, going off to school for the day and being further frustrated by her lackluster teachers.
That evening Casey again goes out to try something
but unfortunately the guards and police are waiting for her. She gets taken to a local jail and her father arranges for her bail. When she gets her stuff out of the large manilla envelope into which the police stored her belongings, she picks up the pin that Athena had dropped into her helmet and then things happen to her
. Eventually Casey figures out that somehow the pin requires direct skin contact but only for her to partially
take her to the Tomorrowland world (she still is in part connected to our world). By releasing the pin from direct contact she can see where she is in our world then estimate where she needs to go to get to that city she sees in the distance. Unfortunately she subsequently discovers that the pin has a limited lifespan.
Eventually Casey meets with Athena who then leads her to Frank who has become a virtual hermit. They are being chased by a set of
robots which are mostly concerned with what Athena has been doing and trying to stop HER, and only secondarily concerned with stopping the three of them from returning to Tomorrowland.
I'll let the movie tell the rest for anyone who wishes to learn it. It is a mostly fun story with lots of amusing and interesting bits, but I'm afraid that at its heart it ultimately fails.
One thing to note: watch Athena played by Raffey Cassidy. I think that even though she playing a robot, I think that Cassidy does play her role with extreme subtlety which is astounding for a 12/13-year-old. Perhaps she was aided by superb direction from Brad Bird, but I think she will be an actress to watch assuming that she decides to continue with acting.