The recent Sandra Bullock thriller,"Premonition
," could have learned a thing or two from the makers of "Meet the Robinsons." Both films heavily surround themselves in the mysteries of time travel and the question of whether one's life is predestined or open to alterations. How ironic, then, that it is the adult-targeted "Premonition
" that cheats its audience and leaves convoluted, irresponsible plot holes in its wake, while the family-friendly computer-animated Disney movie consistently surprises and delights as it presents expertly-crafted revelations that make sense and play fair.
Lewis (Daniel Hansen) is a 12-year-old dreamer and aspiring inventor who has lived his entire life in an orphanage. With his teenage years fast approaching, Lewis has begun to lose hope that he will ever be adopted and get a family of his own. When his ambitious science fair projecta gadget that can read and visually process memories from any moment in a person's lifegoes horribly wrong after being tampered with by the dastardly Bowler Hat Guy (Stephen Anderson), Lewis is whisked off via a time machine into a future lived in by 13-year-old Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman).
Their bumpy landing destroys the time machine, and Bowler Hat Guy, who followed Wilbur into the past to try and make a fortune off of Lewis' invention, has the only other existing one. Temporarily stuck, Lewis meets Wilbur's extended family, an oddball but loving bunch who he comes to believe could be the perfect family for him. More trouble lurks, however, when the bumbling Bowler Hat Guy wrecks the cash-cow invention and returns to the future to snatch up the only person with the knowledge to fix it: Lewis.
Judged as a whole, the Pixar-free "Meet the Robinsons" doesn't quite match the bulk of that sterling company's collaborations with the Mouse (i.e. 1999's "Toy Story 2
," 2003's "Finding Nemo
")the pacing gets a bit frenetic in the second act when it should have allowed some time to breathe and explore the title familybut the overall quality is close enough in both story and writing to work a pleasing spell on viewers of any age. The humor is of the quick-witted variety, the narrative is smartly thought-out and inventive (even when there are a few borrowed elements from the "Back to the Future" trilogy), and the emotional impact of the last twenty minutes or so packs an unexpected wallop. When an animated film can do all of these things, it's a sure sign that the project was in good hands. Based on the evidence here, director Stephen Anderson (making his auspicious feature debut) could grow to become the next John Lasseter.
Being released theatrically in a two-dimensional version and a special 3-D edition in select theaters, it warrants being recommended that the 3-D one is what should be actively sought out. Free of those cheesy green-and-red-lensed cardboard glasses that washed out the colors on screen (look no further than 2003's "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over
" and 2005's "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D
" for proof of how bad it can look when done wrong), Disney's technologically-advanced 3-D format is a huge step up and close to flawless. The images and hues dynamically pop off the screen in such a way that it literally looks as if you could step right into the picture. Simply put, it's a genuinely immersive experience.
Also of note is a grand return to the great memorable villains that Disney used to be known for. With his long spider-like legs, curled mustache, and the truly inspired voice talent of director Stephen Anderson himself, Bowler Hat Guy is like a snide, sniveling twenty-first century answer to the Peculiar Purple Pie Man from the old "Strawberry Shortcake" cartoons. He might be a little creepy, but he's not without humor, and the places that this character goes as more is learned about him brings a newfound depth and pathos to someone who, in a lesser film, would be nothing more than a paper-thin baddie. The other voice acting is capable, tooLaurie Metcalf (2005's "Fun with Dick and Jane
") has fun as over-caffeinated science fair judge Lucille Krunklehorn and Angela Bassett (2004's "Mr. 3000
") is warmly assuring as head of the orphanage Mildredbut it is Anderson's take on Bowler Hat Guy that steals the film.
At the heart of "Meet the Robinsons" is resourceful but insecure underdog Lewis, who, amid all the zaniness around him, is rooted in the reality of an orphaned boy who longs for a family to call his own. His biggest chance for this with the Robinsons is not afforded enough screen time, and the many family members actually come off as annoying caricatures long before they are humanized, but the movie reclaims its footing and dramatically potent center in time for a climax that offers some of the best (read: unpredictable yet logical) plot twists in any film in a long time. The final scenes, as Lewis discovers his destiny, realizes that his pastthe good and the bad of itshouldn't be tampered with, and grows up a little in the process, are beautifully done.
"Meet the Robinsons" is an exuberant entertainment and a fine addition to Disney's animated library. The picture's mantra"keep moving forward"is a worthwhile and fitting piece of advice that also could be talking about the evolution of the studio's glorious computer animation, which excels with each new release (even more so in the aforementioned 3-D). Mixing with ease a fantastical adventure with universally human themes involving the desire for acceptance and the embrace of one's individuality, "Meet the Robinsons" strikes the right notes as a fast-paced comedy, a touching but not saccharine slice-of-life, and a valuable learning tool for children.