When it looked like Disney
and Pixar were about to part ways a few years back, Disney decided to ramp up its own 3-D animation studio in order to keep putting these lucrative movies on the market. The results (Chicken Little, for example) have been lackluster so far, but after years of effort it finally looks like Disney has again figured out how to make animated movies that work... just in time to complete its multi-billion dollar acquisition of Pixar.
Now that they're all one company, I'm not sure what the future holds for Disney's in-house animation studio, but Meet the Robinsons will probably be the best thing it ever produces, no matter what happens at this point. But that's not damning with faint praise: Meet the Robinsons is really a great film that I unilaterally recommend. Article continues below
Based on a children's book from William Joyce, the story tells us of an orphan named Lewis who's far more interested in inventing crazy things than playing baseball with other kids. Sadly, his inventions never work right, and various mishaps have conspired to keep him unadopted on the eve of his 13th birthday. Lewis decides to create a machine that can recall lost memories (so he can track down the mother who gave him up), but his science fair unveiling ends with the predictable room full of chaos.
Then things get really nutty: An evil genius (well, not so much a genius) from the future arrives to abscond with the invention, as does a young boy named Wilbur Robinson, who brings Lewis with him back to the future. Here, the adventure continues, with Lewis meeting Wilbur's eccentric family, and battling the evil "bowler hat guy" who stole his experiment. (One of the best villains ever, he keeps his master plan in a unicorn-logo binder.) Eventually he'll discover the meaning of all of this and what it all has to do with him.
For a kiddie flick, it's actually a complex little film, with shades of Back to the Future and The Matrix running throughout. However the movie never feels derivative. By keeping things light and avoiding such concerns as what could happen when you meet your future/past self, Meet the Robinsons remains a pretty feathery adventure. And yet, surprisingly, the movie has plenty of depth that will resonate with grown-ups. Robinsons humor is far more intelligent than the juvenile puns of, say, Finding Nemo: A T-Rex bemoaning his "giant head and little arms" -- in subtitles -- is a highlight, as are crooning frogs that are subtly revealed to be gangsters, complete with a dark suits, a Cadillac, and a tire iron in the trunk. More importantly, its messages about failure being a learning experience (and something to be celebrated) and the importance of a good support network put most animated movies to shame. I was actually touched by Lewis's emotional journey while being thrilled by the film's actual adventure. And to think... this movie might actually get kids interested in science.
My focus on the film's few non-human characters shouldn't make you think the movie is replete with talking beasts cracking wise. Wilbur's extended family stands in for the usual movie sidekicks, and for the most part they're (animated) flesh and blood. That said, the future is obviously a weird place -- and a curvy, '50s-inflected, pastel-colored utopia -- so giant octopi and lanky robots are par for the course. And while the film might very well have been better off without the surfeit of excess characters that parade throughout the movie's second act, it would be hard to imagine Meet the Robinsons without, well, the Robinsons.
Technically speaking, the movie is crisply animated and pretty to look at. It doesn't push any CGI boundaries, instead settling into a hyperrealistic cartoony style, which works just fine here. That said, you'll see plenty of fine detail in Lewis's spiky hair and myriad places where you can get lost in the futuristic eye candy. I also had the luxury of seeing the film in Disney Digital 3D (it'll be on about 600 screens in this format) and was extremely impressed with its effectiveness. Frankly I can't imagine seeing the movie in regular 2D now.
The celebrity voices are kept to a minimum, and all the major characters are nobodies. Adam West
, Tom Selleck
, and Laurie Metcalf
have a few lines each in smallish roles. Otherwise, director Stephen J. Anderson
, with his first non-direct-to-video feature, does an impressive job keeping the focus on the story and the grand adventure. Did Pixar really do a script touchup, as rumored, to keep the movie from bogging down? If so, that just might be the best $7 billion anyone's ever spent.