Meet the Robinsons

| April 1, 2007

Disney’s Meet the Robinsons features twelve-year-old orphan and inventor Lewis’ search for a family. After being rejected by his 124th prospective adoptive parents, Lewis (voiced by Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) determines to invent a machine that will help him remember and find his mother, who left him on the doorsteps of the orphanage in which he still lives. The machine is stolen by the evil Bowler Hat Guy, and Lewis is whisked to the future by Wilbur (Wesley Singerman) to restore order.
Who is Wilbur and why does he take Lewis to the future? Not completely clear. What is the ultimate goal of the bad guy, a machine gone awry? Not completely clear. What is the logic behind this vision of the future that depicts people traveling in bubbles (seems inefficient) and an octopus as a butler? Not everything in Meet the Robinsons makes complete sense. Including William Joyce who wrote the book upon which the film is based, the screenplay is credited to seven writers, which is never a good sign. There is so much thrown into this film, seemingly at random (i.e. the singing frogs), that Disney comes off a little desperate to bring Fun!, Excitement!, and Novelty! to audiences.
Luckily, when Disney sticks to what it does best, namely sincere sentiment, the film works. The opening scenes that put Lewis through a series of painful rejections endear him to audiences. The climax and resolution are moving. And the appearance of a quote by the late Walt Disney that echoes the movie’s main character’s mantra, “keep moving forward,” harkens to a time before Michael Eisner and Pixar.
Meet the Robinsons looks great, and I expect some of the more random visuals make more sense when viewed in 3D (not available at all cinemas, so check ahead of time). Brightly colored and featuring a host of strange characters (I’m still trying to make sense of how one character could have produced children with his wife, a puppet), there’s plenty here to keep kids entertained.
Director Stephen J. Anderson avoids stuffing the film full of the pop-culture references so rampant in DreamWorks pictures, opting instead to embrace the odd and arbitrary. There are no big-name stars here (save for my personal fave, Angela Bassett, as Mildred who runs the orphanage), and this failure to pander gives audiences a chance to focus on the characters rather than the performers. Anderson voices the villain, Bowler Hat Guy, a desperate failure of a bad guy. Creepy, pathetic, and rich with irony, Bowler Hat Guy ranks as one of the most entertaining (if not menacing) bad guys in Disney history.
Didactic messages abound, of course, but my personal favorite—it is only through embracing our mistakes that we learn anything—may come as a surprise to children like my perfectionist nephew. In one scene, Lewis watches for a second time as one of his inventions backfires and explodes. Expecting rejection, Lewis instead finds himself surrounded by the applauding Robinson family. Lewis is a curious and bright child, and his refusal to let life get him down is inspiring.
Meet the Robinsons reaches for the future but doesn’t quite achieve a choate vision. But, hey, we learn from our mistakes, right?

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