Family friendly sci-fi starts out magical, gets bogged down by a moralizing and uninspired third act.

From Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker to The Matrix’s Neo, the Chosen One—the often unsuspecting individual who is uniquely gifted to save the world—is almost always a boy. I could fill up 10 reviews with examples of such boy heroes in fantasy and science fiction film and literature, but lately there have been some stirrings from the other end of the chromosomal spectrum. The Hunger Games‘ Katniss is, of course, a girl, even if the love triangle between her and Peeta and Gale somewhat distracts from her world-saving duties. Divergent‘s Tris is a variation on The Chosen One model, although she, too, comes equipped with a hunky love interest. In Interstellar, Cooper’s daughter Murph basically helps save the world, but the movie isn’t really her story. So perhaps my favorite new Chosen One: Female Edition, is Tomorrowland‘s Casey Newton. It’s interesting that the role was apparently first written for a boy—and perhaps explains why Casey wears a baseball cap at all times (it was a gift from her father) and has not even the slightest whiff of a love interest in the film. More like this, please.

Tomorrowland, which is directed by the great animation maestro Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), reminded me a bit of the kinds of films I grew up on—smart, wide-eyed, live-action family films like Back to the Future, War Games, and E.T. I wish—oh how I wish—it was a little bit better than it is.

For a while, though, it’s sufficiently magical. Casey (Britt Robertson), who lives in Cape Canaveral with her rocket scientist dad (Tim McGraw) and little brother, gets arrested for trying to sabotage the demolition of a space station. When she gets sprung from jail, the clerk slides a pin with a T on it her way. “This isn’t mine,” she says. But when she touches it, she’s briefly transported to a beautiful field of wheat. In the distance, there’s a futuristic city—all gleaming metal and sleek trains and flying pods. Then she lets go of the pin and she’s back in the police station.

Eventually, she meets an adorable but alarmingly self-possessed little girl named Athena (enchanting Raffey Cassidy, nearly stealing the show), who is actually a robot. (She would definitely pass the Turing Test.) Athena dumps her off at the home of Frank Walker (an appealingly crusty George Clooney), a wizened genius, living in self-imposed exile. When he was a young child—flush with optimism and armed with his new invention (a jet pack that almost works)—Frank (then played by child actor Thomas Robinson) attended the 1964 World Fair and met a scientist named David Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix didn’t care that Frank’s jetpack almost worked or that the young lad thought there was value in the mere possibility of it working, he dismissed him and moved onto the next young inventor. Athena, however, lurking nearby, immediately saw something in Frank and gave him a pin—which allowed him access to a place called Tomorrowland, a utopian alternate universe populated by genius scientists, artists, and philosophers. Young Frank fell for Tomorrowland—and Athena—hard.

What happened to Frank in the interim—how he changed from optimistic and lovestruck inventor to crusty old recluse—is one of the many questions of the film, but suffice it to say, he and Casey have to team up to return to Tomorrowland and, yes, try to save the world. What makes Casey uniquely qualified to go on such a mission? Her smarts, of course—she’s a scientific genius, just like Frank. But more so, her optimism. In one of the film’s best scenes, we get a montage of Casey’s school teachers droning on about global warming and world famine and nuclear proliferation. “But what can we do to…fix it?” Casey asks, as one teacher stares back, dumbfounded. Yup, Tomorrowland could definitely be subtitled: The Audacity of Hope.

All of the film’s mysteries—what is Tomorrowland? What is the cause of Frank’s ennui? How does Athena fit into all of this?—are great fun, but Tomorrowland reminds me a bit of those horror films where, once the Big Bad is finally revealed, it’s disappointingly lame and unscary. By the time we get to Tomorrowland itself, it’s not a particularly interesting world. Nor does Nix make for a particularly compelling villain, even in the hands of an actor as gifted as Laurie. He’s pretty much just there to glower a bit and spout his theory that humans have screwed up so much, they don’t deserve his would-be utopia.

Which brings me to the film’s philosophy. The script, co-written by Bird with Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Jeff Jenson, argues that we, as a species, have lost hope. There’s some truth to this, I suppose, if our current All-Dystopia-All-the-Time science fiction is any indication (and Tomorrowland feels like a direct response to those films.) But is that really what they think? That the reason mankind doesn’t fix itself, as it were, is because we’re all just blithely waiting for doom? Not sure that rings true. If anything, I’d say the truth is more along the lines of: our optimism (everything will work out in the end! It always does!) gives us an excuse for our complacency. I guess that’ll be my movie.

Thanks to its heavy-handed message and lame third act, Tomorrowland ultimately disappoints. But it will always hold a special place in my heart. The myth of the Chosen One is a very affirming one. The idea that every little kid—even you (yes you!)—might be mankind’s last hope is a confidence builder. So my sincerest wish is that young girls see this movie and start to ask themselves, “What is my secret power that might save the world?”