a critiQal film review Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Plot: When Lewis meets a mysterious boy from the future named Wilbur Robinson, the two travel forward in time where Lewis discovers the amazing secret of the Robinson family.

Reviewed
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While we had seen Meet the Robinsons in theaters, I, for some reason, had never gotten around to written a review for it. We had liked it a lot back in the theaters, so when we saw the DVD in Wal-Mart today for $15 while we were looking for new PEZ, we immediately snatched it up, and I was given another chance for a review.

Unlike most animated films in recent years (Surf’s Up (2007), Home on the Range (2004), The Incredibles (2004) and Madagascar (2005) to name a few…even the soon-to-be-released Bee Movie (2007)), Disney did not rely on recognizable voices to promote Meet the Robinsons. Instead, they give the lead character’s voicing to lesser known Jordan Fry (whose only other major film role was Mike Teevee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)). This was a surprising decision, given that well-known actors voicing animated characters seems to be all the rage recently, no matter what studio is producing the film.

While they did toss in a few more well-known actors in smaller roles (Angela Bassett, Harland Williams, Adam West from “Batman” (TV) and Tom Selleck to name a few), they gave most of the lead acting gigs to lesser known child actors (the aforementioned Jordan Fry included). While this seems risky, it pays off in Meet The Robinsons. Because the viewer does not associate the voices of the lead characters with any other roles, the viewer is more easily enticed to accept the voices as those of the characters on-screen, and do not transfer any traits or memories from previous roles onto these characters.

But the true standouts of Meet the Robinsons, as in most recent Disney films, aren’t the main characters but the sidekicks – in this case, an intelligent hat that is able to control the minds of whoever it perches on. This mind control, combined with the time travel theme of the film, combine to bring one of the funniest lines of the film. At one point, the bad guy has traveled to the past and enslaved a dinosaur to help him capture Lewis. Lewis, on the run, is trapped in a corner, and it looks as if the dinosaur is about to do him in…only to discover that he can’t reach the boy huddled in the corner. When the bad guy grows impatient and asks the dinosaur “why aren’t you seizing the boy?”, the dinosaur replies in a slow, garbled voice, “I have a big head…and little arms”.

While the acting is engaging all by itself, the plot is where the strength of Disney animated films lie. After all, what is good animation if there isn’t an engaging story to involve the viewers? Based on the children’s book by William Joyce, Meet the Robinsons starts off as a story about an endearing orphaned boy named Lewis who dreams of meeting the mother he barely remembers. As it turns out, however, he is about to create something spectacular that changes the course of his life…but comically evil forces (in the form of a rather pathetic guy called “Bowler” thanks to his nifty hat) are out to make sure his life stays the way it is. Enter Wilbur Robinson, a boy from the future who has a vested interest in making sure Lewis’ life changes occur as expected.

While the first part of Meet the Robinsons is a bit pedantic, Lewis’ inventive mishaps help create a lot of comic relief…and when he does meet up with future boy Wilbur, the movie begins to lean towards the incredibly zany. In this version of the future, it’s very-much a kid friendly world, with bubble transports (complete with a giant Mickey Mouse-like gloved hand to pop the bubble at journey’s end), tube transports that end up in some odd places (a toilet bowl is one of those stops), a wonky robot named Carl (played to the hilt by Harland Williams), crooning frogs and springy lawn growths that take the shape of everything from circles to sliced bread.

Of course, this version of the future is so kid-friendly it is a bit ridiculous, but Meet the Robinsons doesn’t really focus on the changes for the most part, instead trying to keep the film centered around Lewis and his quest, keeping the future differences as springboards (sometimes quite literally) for adventures Lewis has while in the future.

And, of course, Disney keeps up it’s string of successes in the animation department, using it’s computer animation skills to create a fun, if rather cartoonish, visual feast for the eyes in every sequence.

Despite it’s incredibly kid-oriented view of the future, there is enough in Meet The Robinsons to delight young and old alike. Unlike Bowler’s crazy schemes, this movie was thought through, and should get few complaints, even after several viewings.

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