Ever since the little quibble with Pixar, Disney has been saddled with filling in the gaps between the aforementioned studio’s releases. With Pixar considered the zenith of computer-animated features, and for good reason, Disney’s non-Pixar releases are almost destined to disappoint; look no further than 2005’s Chicken Little. Meet the Robinsons is a serviceable piece of eye candy for the kiddies, but the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and seems far too confusing and detached for the little ones to process. Perhaps that is why Disney has sweetened the deal by presenting the film in Disney Digital 3D (in select theaters).
We first meet young Lewis (voiced by Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) as his mother leaves him on the doorstep of an orphanage. He grows into a knowledgeable and resourceful twelve-year-old who has a knack for inventions, even if they don’t always work. Determined to fully remember his birth mother (he did see her at one time, after all), Lewis invents a machine that is capable of reading a person’s memory. The device catches the eye of the Bowler Hat Guy (voiced by Stephen J. Anderson), a stick of a man who promptly steals it from the local science fair. Fear not, as shortly thereafter Lewis meets Wilbur Robinson (voiced by Wesley Singerman), a boy from the future who can help Lewis get his memory scanner back. Their adventures take them into the future and an eventual showdown with the Bowler Hat Guy.
As screened in 3D, the animation is top-notch; colorful, vibrant, and fast-paced. The film does have a constant energy that is, at times, contagious. In terms of bubble gum entertainment for the kids, one couldn’t ask for much more.
What one could ask for is a cohesive story. As silly as it may sounds for a kid’s film, I think many would agree that it is the story that largely carries Pixar’s films to victory. The animation acts as support. Borrowing liberally from the Back to the Future series and The Jetsons, the narrative that initially starts out as engaging and winds up being passable, but many of the scenes in the future feel like the screenwriters dipped into the old dime bag before putting finger to keyboard. The first fifteen minutes of the second act are flat-out bizarre, as the boys explore the Robinson household as well as a neighbor’s home. When the screenplay sticks to Lewis and Wilbur’s adventures with the Bowler Hat Guy it’s the most winning.
The smaller moments end up making the film recommendable. The fan favorite scene in the trailer, involving a T-Rex under the spell of the Bowler Hat Guy trying to capture Lewis, is laugh-out-loud hilarious no matter how many times you see it. There is heartfelt warmth and a moral lesson to “keep moving forward,” as Walt Disney used to say, that will be easily digestible for the youngsters.
Meet the Robinsons will get the job done until Pixar’s next release, Ratatouille, hits theaters this summer. Flaws aside, the film accomplishes its mission of entertaining the kids while not completely alienating the parents. And hey, at least it doesn’t have penguins.
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures
Length: 102 Minutes
Theatrical Release: March 30, 2007
Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson
Written by: Robert L. Baird & Jon Bernstein & Michelle Bochner & Daniel Gerson & William Joyce & Shirley Pierce.
Cast: Angela Bassett (voice), Daniel Hansen (voice), Jordan Fry (voice), Matthew Josten (voice), John H. Ford (voice), Dara McGarry (voice)