A Reel View: Meet the Robinsons

A Reel View
Meet the Robinsons

It's tempting to label Meet the Robinsons as just another in a long line of recent computer animated kid-traps, but it deserves a more upbeat description. Thankfully, we're not subjected to the new staple of the big-screen cartoon - anthropomorphized animals are kept to a minimum (a few genetically engineered frogs and a T-Rex). I'm tired of talking bears and singing donkeys. It goes without saying that children will enjoy the movie (this is a blanket statement that applies to anything except the worst animation), but there's enough of a storyline to keep adults from dozing off. No one is going to mistake Meet the Robinsons for any of the great Disney/Pixar releases from the 1995-2004 decade but as an early spring 2007 offering, it's better than merely acceptable.
Lewis is a 12-year old orphan with a penchant for inventing things. Most of his inventions are disasters, but that doesn't stop him from forever tinkering. His latest creation - a device to pull a long-buried memory out of the cerebral cortex and display it on a view screen - has attracted considerable attention from both the present and the future. On the day it is to be demonstrated at the school science fair, the mysterious "Bowler Hat Guy" appears, snatches it, and disappears. Enter Wilbur Anderson, a boy from the future, who straps Lewis into his time ship and spirits him off to 25-years-from-now, where Tomorrowland has become Todayland. There and then, Lewis and Wilbur must fight to keep Bowler Hat Guy from destroying the future while Lewis (the orphan) discovers through his contact with the Robinsons what it means to have a family.
Meet the Robinsons is bright and colorful and the digital rendering gives it an impressive appearance. (In some venues, it's available in 3-D). Spectacle may not be everything, but it doesn't hurt. The film's look is like a fusion of Jimmy Neutron and Robots. There's plenty of detail in the futuristic backgrounds and foregrounds but the characters are blandly drawn, looking more like Weebles than people. The majority of the voiceover work is provided by unknowns (which can be a benefit, since recognizable vocals distract). There are a few exceptions, but all in secondary roles: Angela Bassett, Harland Williams, Adam West, Laurie Metcalf, and Tom Selleck. (There's a nice in-joke associated with Selleck.)
As villains go, Bowler Hat Guy is unique in the Magic Kingdom's pantheon. The average Disney bad guy is rotten through-and-through, whether we're talking old school (Captain Hook, The Wicked Stepmother) or new school (Gaston, Ursula). Bowler Hat Guy is more pathetic than evil, and he's also extremely stupid. He may look like Dick Dastardly, but his I.Q. is a few notches below that of Yosemite Sam. This makes him more a source of comedy than menace, which gives the movie an unmistakably light tone until one sequence when it gets very, very dark as an alternative future kicks in (think It's a Wonderful Life).
The film's emotional core focuses on Lewis' sense (or lack thereof) of belonging. As an orphan, he has always wondered why his mother didn't want him and whether he'll find a family. In true Disney tradition, Meet the Robinsons finds a way to surround the outsider with people he loves and who love him in return. It does not, however, answer the most obvious question, and is better for not doing so.
It's fair to wonder whether young viewers will understand what's going on at times, since elements of Meet the Robinsons are based on tried-and-true time travel paradoxes. Then again, it may not matter. There's enough adventure and humor that understanding the intricacies of how a boy can alter his own time stream may not matter. Adults, I imagine, will figure out the "twist" pretty early; kids will be delighted when it's revealed. Meet the Robinsons is a fast paced, high energy offering; it passes by in a breeze and is enjoyable enough that I'm willing to forgive the two awful songs (one near the beginning, one near the end) and recommend it.

Movie Reviews and Criticism by James Berardinelli, reelviews.net.