Meet the Robinsons: A Lost Gem in the Disney Movie Crown
"Meet the Robinsons" (2007), directed by Stephen J. Anderson and based on the book "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" by William Joyce, was the first Disney animated feature film to really feel the imprint of the Disney/Pixar merger. It has a much more adult feel than, say, "Chicken Little," with a scary villain and adult science fiction concepts about time travel. Small children might not be comfortable with certain parts, but that was the case with even the most classic Disney animated films such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Bambi." "Meet the Robinsons" had the misfortune of coming out at a time when other studios were in the midst of phenomenal franchise runs, and in 2007 animation fans were looking forward to the release of Pixar's "Ratatouille" and kind of skipped over "Meet the Robinsons," but this is film from Walt Disney Animation Studios is well worth watching.
|Lewis working on one of his experiments|
Lewis is a bright child who lives in an orphanage and likes to tinker and invent things. Unfortunately, he is an orphan, and his inventions are off-putting for potential parents. Feeling unfulfilled, Lewis decides to find his mother, so he builds a mind-scan machine, which is loud and keeps roommate Goob awake at night, leading to his missing an important Little League game.
|Lewis is always thinking|
At a science fair, Lewis shows his mind-scan machine to Wilbur Robinson. Wilbur claims to be a time-traveller from the future who needs Lewis' help to recover his missing time machine. When Lewis tries to use his mind-scanner at the fair, it malfunctions, and Lewis leaves. The same man who stole Wilbur's time machine, who wears a bowler hat, then arrives and steals the scanner, which he repairs and uses.
|Wilbur driving Lewis into the future|
Wilbur tracks Lewis down at the orphanage and again asks for his help. To prove his veracity, Wilbur takes Lewis in a time machine to the year 2037. Lewis and Wilbur get into an argument, though, and the time machine crashes. Lewis agrees to fix it only if Wilbur will agree to take Lewis to his mother afterwards. Lewis gets to work in the garage, but quickly meets the rest of Wilbur's family except for Wilbur's father, Cornelius.
|Lewis with the Robinsons|
Bowler Hat Guy, meanwhile, has been following the pair in company with his sidekick Doris. He tries to kidnap Lewis, but fails. Meanwhile, the Robinsons offer to adopt Lewis, but they decide not to because Lewis is from the past, while Wilbur admits that he was lying when he promised to take Lewis to see his mother. Lewis runs off, but soon learns that Bowler Hat Guy is none other than his old orphanage roommate, Goob, who never got over missing the big Little League game.
|Wilbur and Lewis|
Doris turns out to be one of Lewis' discarded experiments that actually worked and blamed Lewis for abandoning it. Their plan is to claim credit for the mind scanner and thereby ruin Lewis' reputation. Using a time machine, they alter the future to one in which Lewis is absent and the world is full of Doris clones.
|Bowler Hat Guy is an undeniably hammy villain|
Lewis repairs the second time machine and repairs the future by never inventing Doris. Returning to the Robinson home, Lewis finally meets Cornelius, who turns out to be a grown-up version of Lewis himself. From Cornelius, Lewis learns that the scanner actually worked and established him as a famous inventor. Wilbur takes Lewis back to the science fair, but first fulfils his initial promise and takes Lewis to see his mother. Lewis has the chance to stop her from leaving him at the orphanage, but ultimately decides to leave things as they were because he is comfortable being part of the Robinson family.
|Aurian Redson is Frankie the Frog|
Wilbur drops Lewis off just before the science fair, and Lewis has the presence of mind to go back to his room first and awaken Goob, who gets to the Little League game after all and makes the winning catch. Lewis then proceeds to the science fair, where he makes the machine work properly. Lucille, a science fair judge, then adopts him. Lucille's husband, Bud, then nicknames Lewis "Cornelius" and takes him back to live with them. Goob also finds a family of his and proudly shows off his Little League trophy.
|Tracey Miller-Zarneke plays Lizzy|
As is usually the case with time-travel stories, the main points of "Meet the Robinsons" have nothing to do with time travel. Basic Disney notions of being considerate, thoughtful and keeping your word permeate the storyline, and it is clear that doing the right thing by others is what is important. There are some more subtle points as well, including the idea (that not everybody necessarily will agree with) that "bad guys" are at least sometimes forced to become bad for a reason and aren't inherently evil. The key mistakes that Lewis ultimately fixes - not creating the unhappy Doris, and not preventing Goob from being harmed from the consequences of his scanner - help other. By so doing, Lewis ultimately helps himself. Lewis learns that it's not all just about him - and that's a terrific lesson that many grown-ups could stand to learn, too.
Unlike the big Disney hits of the 1990s, there are no big celebrities in the voice cast to sell "Meet the Robinsons." Relative unknowns Jordan Fry, Wesley Singerman and Steve Anderson voice the main characters Lewis, Wilbur and Bowler Hat Guy, respectively. Fine voice actors that they are, none of them has the star power of a Robin Williams or a James Woods. Angela Bassett, Tom Selleck and original "Batman" Adam West have small roles, but that is about it for celebrities. Nothing wrong with finding the right voices for characters rather than adapting characters to fit celebrities, in fact that is kind of refreshing, but the low-profile cast partially explains the problems "Meet the Robinsons" encountered at the box office.
|The future is shown as a cool place|
"Meet the Robinsons" has stellar 3-D animation, and the score by Danny Elfman is up to his usual high standards. The Jonas Brothers, They Might Be Giants and other popular music acts of the time make contributions, including Rob Thomas with the radio hit "Little Wonders." Versions of "Meet the Robinsons" became video games on all the major platforms of the time. "Meet the Robinsons" was released on DVD and Blu-ray late in 2007, with many bonus features. Steve Anderson narrates, and as is so often the case with Disney box office failures, "Meet the Robinsons" became a minor hit with home video buyers.
|Wilbur and Lewis make a good team|
When you compare "Meet the Robinsons" to other recent Disney films, you realize how different it is. While it has the usual feel-good Disney flourishes, "Meet the Robinsons" has an advanced science fiction plot with twists of a type that are completely absent from the previous "Chicken Little" and other Disney films. As such, it will tend to retain the attention of adults a lot longer, but the flip side is that children might find parts difficult to follow and downright scary. Part of the reason for the failure of "Meet the Robinsons" upon its initial release may have been this increased focus on older viewers, which may have alienated part of Disney's usual audience. Compared to other Disney releases of the time, the story has real wit and intelligence. This does lead to some unevenness when everything is resolved with a Hollywood ending that is inspirational to a fault and perhaps presses the morals of "Meet the Robinsons" just a bit too forcefully. Overall, for most viewers, it is a fun and enjoyable film that is easy to recommend for all but the youngest viewers.
|Bowler Hat Guy really isn't so bad|
The 3D animation of "Meet the Robinsons" rewards viewing it on Blu-ray, where you can get the full effect. "Meet the Robinsons" should appeal to boys at least as much as girls, so all kids should be able enjoy it. There is a terrific epilogue that really is the cherry on top of the ice cream, and you may find yourself completely changing your opinion of the Bowler Hat Guy when all is said and done in a stunning emotional reversal for a Disney movie.
Below is the trailer for "Meet the Robinsons," and below that the Rob Thomas music video for "Little Wonders."