If it weren’t for Pixar, Disney, once the undisputed leader in Western feature-length animation, would be seriously lagging. Aside from Lilo and Stitch and The Emperor’s New Groove, I wouldn’t rate any of their animated films from the past decade very highly. In fact, several downright stink. Does anybody remember anything Home on the Range except for the fact that Roseanne plays a cow? Then there’s the pressure to make everything look new and fandangled with the latest in computer tricks and gadgets. Here’s a note on why Pixar’s track record is so strong: the focus is on the substance not the appearance.
With Meet the Robinsons, Disney shows that they might be starting to get that point. Sure it’s spacey, cutting-edge and all that technical stuff, but it also has some heart to it. Notice I said heart and not a plot.
When he was a wee lad, Wilbur was left on the doorstep of an orphanage. As he grew into a young lad, he developed a keen interest in inventing gadgets. With the name Wilbur, a pair of knee-high socks and an antisocial disposition the poor boys got three strikes against him. He’s a borderline stereotypical nerd. But one Science Fair day Wilbur is whisked off into the future to save the world from a throwback villain with a bowler hat, handle mustache and a five o’clock shadow. There he meets the Robinsons, a tight-knit family of dysfunctional weirdos and eccentrics.
The plot often takes a back seat to the weird characters and creations that inhabit the future. And while they’re original and quirky in their own right, the Robinson family tree is so large it’s hard to real develop them. But these were still the moments that I liked best. There’s enough humor throughout that it kept me chuckling for the entire second and third acts. It was almost as though I was wanting Meet the Robinsons to be an introductory pilot for something of an ongoing nature such as a TV show or a movie franchise.
Although clearly a family film, the humour doesn’t pander to the lowest toilet joke denominator. Instead it’s about as random as it gets. From jazzy frogs to a ventriloquist married to a puppet, the gags are often unpredictable even if the plot is. This gives the film a fresh feeling where anything can happen at any time. And because the Robinsons are so strange, the randomness is wholly acceptable.
Despite its obvious shortcomings, Meet the Robinsons left me wanting a little more. It’s been a long, long time since a Disney film without a little lamp logo at the beginning has made me feel that way. Here’s hoping that Disney might be showing signs of shaking their slumping ways.
Meet the Robinsons DVD Review
Meet the Robinsons is a beautiful film. The CG is bright and cartoony. It doesn’t have any sort of distinct style but it is refreshingly simple without being overly simplified. The DVD comes with an enhanced widescreen picture (1.78:1 aspect ratio) and a stellar Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track (with additional soundtracks in French and Spanish).
Director Stephen Anderson provides a revealing and in-depth commentary that is both informative and entertaining. “Inventing the Robinsons” is a 15-minute look at the making of the film from its beginnings as a children’s book to the animation studio to recording sessions. “Keep Moving Forward: Inventions That Changed the World” combines footage from various Disney films and productions to talk about some of the most important innovations in human history. Running a touch over six minutes, it’s punchy and direct, but entertaining enough to maybe inspire a tyke somewhere down the road. Three deleted scenes are set up by Anderson. What’s interesting is Anderson’s dissections of the scenes and his reasons for keeping them out of the final cut. “Family Function 5000” is a basic game in which players have to figure out the Robinson family tree. Also on the DVD is a pair of music videos and nine Disney trailers and DVD previews.
Meet the Robinsons Gallery