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Meet the Robinsons Movie Review

Meet the Robinsons (2007) movie poster - click to buy Meet the Robinsons

Theatrical Release: March 30, 2007 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Stephen Anderson

Voice Cast: Daniel Hansen (Lewis), Jordan Fry (Lewis), Wesley Singerman (Wilbur Robinson), Stephen Anderson (Bowler Hat Guy, Grandpa Bud, Tallulah), Angela Bassett (Mildred), Harland Williams (Carl), Nicole Sullivan (Franny Robinson), Tom Kenny (Mr. Willerstein), Laurie Metcalf (Lucille Krunklehorn), Matthew Josten (Michael "Goob" Yagoobian), Adam West (Uncle Art), Tom Selleck (Cornelius), Don Hall (Coach, Gaston), Ethan Sandler (Doris, CEO, Fritz, Spike, Dmitri)

Meet the Robinsons DVD cover art
Meet the Robinsons will come to DVD on October 23rd.
Click here to read our DVD review, here to buy the DVD, and here to buy the movie on Blu-ray Disc.

After floundering in its first attempt at pure computer animation (2005's Chicken Little), Walt Disney Feature Animation appears to have rebounded with Meet the Robinsons, the studio's second all-CGI cartoon film. That is not to say the long-reigning animation champ has reclaimed its throne and shown up the many formidable competitors also currently dabbling in CG animation.
Such a feat probably couldn't have been achieved in a single film. But, in the nearly two-hour runtime of Robinsons, the Mouse illustrates that it can still tell an interesting story and it can tell it well.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Meet the Robinsons is that it's not like the many other computer-animated films that have been regularly occupying movie theaters over the past two years. There are few talking animals, jokes aren't too often lobbed directly at either tiny ones or their older company, and other formulas too frequently employed are mostly absent. One doesn't witness, as they did with Chicken Little, a confused company modeling its product after the works of profitable studios. It's difficult to see any evidence of Disney's respected partner-turned-purchase Pixar Animation Studios, even though the Emeryville-based CGI pioneers reportedly lent their brain trust to help sort affairs out late in production. It's also rather a stretch to see shades of the animation departments of DreamWorks, Blue Sky, or Sony present here. For that matter, there's little to link this film with other modern-day Disney animation, but based on the erratic quality of the studio's recent efforts, that may be a good thing. Certainly, it's admirable that Meet the Robinsons attempts to stand on its own merits rather than what market studies and box office returns have shown to be popular.

Wilbur Robinson journeys from the future and meets Lewis, an inventive 12-year-old. The Bowler Hat Guy is mad and mustachioed, but more silly than scary.

Based on William Joyce's 32-page 1990 children's book A Day with Wilbur Robinson, this comedy-adventure opens at an unspecified point in time. One rainy night, a foundling is left at the doorstep of a foster home. Twelve years later, the orphan is still at the same location. His name is Lewis and he fancies himself as an inventor, albeit one whose imaginative concoctions never work out as designed. The same creative juices that make Lewis feel alive have kept him from finding a home. At the latest count, more than one hundred couples of prospective parents have interviewed the pre-teen and continued their lives without him.

A science fair Lewis hopes can showcase his first success proves to be fateful in many ways. While planning to unveil the Memory Scanner, a device which will allow him to at last recall his early memories of his unknown mother, Lewis encounters Wilbur Robinson, a thirteen-year-old boy who claims to be from the future. Wilbur warns Lewis of Bowler Hat Guy, a supposedly shady individual who is planning to disrupt the fair in a way that will have grave repercussions. Though skeptical at first, Lewis hops into a time machine with Wilbur and journeys many years into the future. While the two boys plot to make things right, Lewis gets to meet the Robinsons, a quirky but friendly clan residing in a high-tech home.

By the end of the film, the viewer is able to grant that an entertaining and enjoyable story has been told. Getting there, it is not so clear. The movie relays very little information to us and our bespectacled blond protagonist, aside from establishing the Good (Lewis and his very vague pal Wilbur), the Bad (the maniacal Bowler Hat Guy and his R2D2-like headwear Doris), and the Future (where people travel in bubbles, gadgets are plentiful, and a robot cracks wise). The design is somewhat questionable; eventually the revelation of what's going on holds power. But even an hour into the film, the curious audience member is left guessing and the young are likely to be confused.

The Robinson family is one quirky bunch. Wilbur shows off the family of the future's garage. (Apparently in the future, they wear clothing adorned by what looks like an upside-down old Touchstone logo.

The shortcomings of the movie's structure are most evident in the middle, a section bookended by far superior acts. Here, the oddball Robinsons are introduced in a busy, dizzy manner. Momentarily, silliness reigns and the story takes a back seat. There's the wacky grandfather whose head appears to be backwards, a pair of uncles who argue over which doorbell guests will use, a monstrous butler, meat-launching devices at the dinner table, and a band of Rat Pack frogs.
Designed to put the "fun" in dysfunction and add a "ny" in the name of comedy, these segments not only make the titular act a challenge but they also derail what is a compelling though unclear plot up to this point. Not to mention, the humor doesn't do much for those not sold on sight gags. For me, the biggest laugh came from not one but two appearances of one of daytime television's most syndicated private eyes.

Gladly, the movie gets its uninspired quirks out of its system in time to return to the plot, finally shedding light on the many questions one's bound to have. It proceeds to serve up surprises, several of which are either deduced or suspected. The conclusion manages to wrap up loose ends without too many plot holes (fairly remarkable considering the space-time continuum is at risk), too much sentimentality, or a prolonged action sequence. A few questions remain and I have no doubt thoughtful young viewers will stay confused about certain aspects. But the movie redeems itself nicely in closing the film that it started out as. Though the middle section may be weak by today's standards, it's surrounded by two considerable chunks which stand up well compared to most of the dozens of generally good computer-animated movies released this decade.

The visuals on display here merit praise. The pleasant design is stylized but it's not merely lazy and uncouth the way Chicken Little's strange fairy tale universe was. The progress made in animation reflects significant gains made in storytelling. Robinsons may not be a home run, but it definitely gets Disney Animation on base at a time when they need to be.

Lewis and Wilbur fly in a time machine. Meeting the Robinsons may not be the best part, but as a whole "Meet the Robinsons" satisfies.

Meet the Robinsons follows Chicken Little and The Nightmare Before Christmas as the third film treated to engagements in Disney Digital 3-D. Special technology available in select theaters enables those wearing transparent glasses to appreciate the depth of the film's worlds. It's not a drastically different experience since there is never the illusion common to the Parks' 3-D movies of elements approaching you in a realistic, frightening, or exciting manner. However, the phenomenon does add some neat uniqueness to the moviegoing process and without resorting to gimmicks. As DVD technology has not yet managed to sufficiently recreate this new form of 3-D to those at home, it's definitely worth considering in planning a theater trip, though perhaps not something worth going out of your way for.

Before the movie, the 1953 Chip 'n Dale short Working for Peanuts plays. Created in stereophonic 3-D, its circus backgrounds aren't as stable and therefore easy on the eyes as the feature itself. The cartoon, depicting the two mischievous chipmunks trying to outsmart a legume-inhaling elephant and Donald Duck, is not without its charms. But judging from reactions, it may be a little dated for mainstream modern viewers.

Disney buffs may take joy in seeing a new logo for the recently-renamed Walt Disney Animation Studios at the start of the film. Emphasizing the company's tradition in the medium, it features Mickey Mouse in his pioneering debut Steamboat Willie. (The movie closes with the more impressive three-dimensional computer-animated logo that has been accompanying live-action Disney releases since last summer.) Though the same audience seems to be targeted by a movie-closing quote attributed to Walt Disney, it cheapens Robinsons' conclusion, shifting its final moment of audience captivity from the featured story to a company philosophy that rationalizes making computer-animated movies. It really ought to have gone at the end of the end credits.

Meet the Robinsons DVD cover art
Meet the Robinsons will come to DVD on October 23rd.
Click here to read our DVD review, here to buy the DVD, and here to buy the movie on Blu-ray.

Related Items:
Buy "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" by William Joyce from Amazon.com Buy "Meet the Robinsons: Soundtrack" from Amazon.com Order "Meet the Robinsons" Computer Video Game from Amazon.com Buy "Meet the Robinsons": The Movie Storybook Amazon.com Buy "Meet the Robinsons": The Junior Novel from Amazon.com
The Book:
A Day with Wilbur Robinson
By William Joyce
Hardcover, 40 pgs.
2006 reprint
Also available:
original 1990 printing
Meet the Robinsons: Soundtrack
Score by Danny Elfman,
Songs by Rufus Wainwright, Rob Thomas, All-American Rejects, Jamie Cullum, They Might Be Giants and more
CD Review
Meet the Robinsons
PC Video Game
CD-ROM, Disney Interactive
Other formats:
PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Game Boy Advance, PSP, Nintendo DS
Movie Poster
Double-sided, one-sheet,
27" x 40"
Meet the Robinsons: The Movie Storybook

More Meet the Robinsons Books:
Coloring and Activity Book with: stickers, crayons, tattoos
The Chapter Book
Paint Book
Reusable Sticker Book
Meet the Robinsons: The Junior Novel

More Meet the Robinsons Tie-In Books:
TokyoPop Cine-Manga
Keep Moving Forward
Journey to the Future
A Family for Lewis
Me, Myself, & Bowler Hat Guy
Where are Grandpa's Teeth?
Who Wants Some Pizza?

Related Reviews:
Meet the Robinsons: Soundtrack Chicken Little Cars The Wild Dinosaur Valiant
Bridge to Terabithia Treasure Planet Home on the Range Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest A Wrinkle in Time The Incredibles
Flight of the Navigator The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Brother Bear Howl's Moving Castle

Reviewed March 30, 2007 / Updated October 15, 2007.