MEET THE ROBINSONS
Director: Stephen J. Anderson
Cast: The voices of Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman, Stephen J. Anderson, Matthew Josten, Angela Bassett, Laurie Metcalf, Don Hall, Harland Williams, Ethan Sandler, Kelly Hoover, Adam West, Nicole Sullivan, Aurian Redson, Tom Selleck
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 3/30/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
I am taken aback but delighted by the humor of Meet the Robinsons. The film is less a kiddie adventure in a futuristic world than it is an absurdist comedy that looks like a kiddie adventure. Clearly made for kids but written for adults, the intent of the jokes for the most part is going to go right over kids' heads. That's not to say children won't enjoy it. It's bright, colorful, and full of goofy characters, but that's about the end of it. Instead, the focus is trying to fit lots of random goofiness into a plot about a genius orphan, time travel, and one of the more bumbling villains in recent memory. Based on the children's book A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce, this isn't Disney animation at its finest, and the computer animated film still fits pretty basically in the trappings of typical Disney plotting (child on his own, strange new land, villain) and motif (family, finding yourself). Those aren't the focal points for most of the movie, though, and the wacky humor doesn't necessarily give the formula an edge as much as it slightly dulls its familiarity. More surprisingly, when those familiar themes come to the foreground near the end, they are still affecting.
It's a rainy, desaturated night. A woman is carrying her baby down the sidewalk to an orphanage, where she leaves him on the doorstep. Mildred (voice of Angela Bassett), who runs the orphanage, takes the baby in. He is Lewis (voice of Daniel Hansen), a brilliant young inventor, whose only wish is to be adopted but whose inventions scare away his potential parents and keep his roommate "Goob" (voice of Matthew Josten, with a very funny stream-of-consciousness droll) up at all hours of the night. After yet another rejection and realizing he is facing his thirteenth birthday, Lewis decides to build a memory scanner so he can unlock the memory of his mother, find her, and live happily ever after. Things are complicated, though, when Wilbur (voice of Wesley Singerman) arrives at the school science fair, warning Lewis of the mysterious Bowler Hat Guy (voice of Stephen J. Anderson, also the film's director). The invention is ready to work, but Bowler Hat arrives, sabotages the machine, and steals it to sell as his own. Wilbur returns, telling Lewis he's from the future and that it's vital Lewis rebuild the machine, but the only way to convince the skeptical Lewis is to take him for a ride to the future.
I must reiterate that the future of the film is a bright and colorful place, because that's essentially what the conceptualization boils down to. In terms of new ideas about what the future could look like, the film has none, but that's not a drawback. Instead of making the comedy revolve around a creative futuristic world, it's more about kooky characters and odd situations. Wilbur's family is a weird one. He has an uncle who's married to a ventriloquist dummy. Another uncle looks like a superhero but delivers pizza and sounds like Adam West. His grandfather wears his clothes backwards and has a face drawn on the back of his bald head. His mother teaches frogs to sing, and in an amusing montage piecing the family together, we learn that his hereto unseen father looks like Tom Selleck and, when he shows up, really sounds like him. Those frogs, by the way, are led by a Sinatra-esque crooner and apparently have formed some kind of frog mafia. It's an inspired kind of random lunacy on display here, something we start to get a taste for at Lewis' science fair when a rogue fan, a delayed model of Mt. Vesuvius, a sprinkler system, and a farm of fire ants create havoc.
It might seem simple (admittedly, it is), but the script's unrelenting barrage of off-the-wall humor is a pleasure. Nothing stacks up against our villain, though—an incredibly dumb bumbler who carries around a unicorn-themed notebook with simple plans that go terribly awry. Enlisting the help of minions like the frog and a tyrannosaur, he's always thwarted, leaving those minions to criticize that the plan wasn't thought out that well. The brain of the operation is his bowler hat, Doris, who has wicked plans of her own, summed up in a flashback that relates one back story only to unexpectedly give us another (the revelation of the location of his evil lair is priceless). The plot eventually settles down into a chase as the space time continuum shifts around our hero (an homage to Star Wars—strangely, one of the prequels) and a moment of decision for him. Astonishingly, that moment, where Lewis must choose between the life he's longed for in the past and what he could have in the future, is moving after all the absurdity that's preceded it. Even stranger, the villain's character arc ends with a tinge of genuine sympathy for him.
This is by no means breakthrough stuff, even for Disney (the tone of the film makes it a fine companion piece to the equally absurd The Emperor's New Groove), but it is infectious. It's appropriate that Rufus Wainwright does a couple of tracks for the soundtrack, as the film is similar to his music—whimsical with some sadness underneath but never taking itself all too seriously. Meet the Robinsons, disposable as it is, is a lot of bizarre fun.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.