STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
MSRP: $29.99
RUNNING TIME:  95 Minutes
• Deleted Scenes
• Inventions that Shapes the World Featurette
• Family Function 5000 Game
• Music Videos: “Little Wonders” – Rob Thomas, “Kids of the Future” – Jonas Brothers
• Inventing the Robinsons Making-Of Featurette
• Audio Commentary by Director Stephen Anderson (with a special guest appearance)

The Pitch

Oliver Twist meets Back to the Future, with less gruel.

The Humans

Featuring the voicework of Harlan (SURF SCHOOL!) Williams, Nicole (Mad TV) Sullivan, Laurie (Roseanne) Metcalf, Tom (Mr. Show) Kenny, Angela (Masked and Anonymous) Bassett

Disney, toying with new gimmicks, tried a failed pass at Bobbitt-vision on Meet the Robinsons.

The Nutshell

Lewis (voiced by Jordan Fry and Daniel Hansen) is a precocious youth obsessed with invention, constantly looking for ways to progress society towards a brighter future, much to the chagrin of his roommate ‘Goob’’s (Matthew Joston) sleep cycle. Both Goob and Lewis are orphans who eagerly anticipate a family accepting them as one of their own. However, Lewis has gone through scores of interviews, and no family has taken a liking to his precocity and his often faulty inventions. Lewis, fed up with the rejection, has decided to undertake his most ambitious invention yet: a machine that reads the subject’s memory, mining deep into their psyche to reveal what’s hidden to their waking minds. His goal: to see his mother’s face on the day she gave him away, so he can track her down and reunite with the one person who ever had cared enough to have him. However, a mysterious gentleman in a bowler hat has made his way from the future to sabotage Lewis’ invention. Luckily, Lewis has a protector in Wilbur, who has come to prevent the Bowler Hat Guy from doing so. From this, Lewis ventures into the future and meets a family he seems destined to belong to, Wilbur’s family, the Robinsons. Time travel-related wackiness ensues.

After the untimely passing of Robert Goulet mid-voice over, Disney went with the Ed Wood/Plan 9 solution to their dilemma.

The Lowdown

My first viewing of this film was in the new 3-D process (I think Disney terms it Real-D)*, and when I left the theater I felt I’d seen an ultimately uneven picture that has a lot of admirable qualities, but ends up a muddled mess in the end. Upon repeat viewings of the newly released Meet the Robinsons, my opinion hasn’t changed one bit: This is an uneven film, and multiple viewings only help to elucidate what exactly creates this quality.

Jurassic Park would’ve been a hell of a lot shorter, that’s for sure.

It has become common knowledge that the only production company capable of making quality animated output on a consistent basis at this point is Pixar. Even when their work isn’t emotionally engaging (which is rare), you can always count on the animation and backgrounds to be fluid and lush; fully immersing you in the setting they’ve created. Meet the Robinsons has no chance to compete with Pixar at its finest: the animation is a little stilted (although the character designs, with their shades of Astro Boy and German Expressionism help overcome the lack of vitality in the characters and their stiffness by replacing it with recognizable genre tropes) and the storyline is hopelessly convoluted.   However, Meet the Robinsons suggests that perhaps Pixar doesn’t have to be the only show in town, with a madcap first two acts that ratchet up the entertainment before it gets bogged down with trying to tie up every loose end created by the time travel storyline as neatly as possible. In fact, the film’s second act is the point at which the film reaches its apex, with the introduction of the Robinsons in a You Can’t Take It With You by way of Marx Brothers set piece that sets the bar incredibly high with ridiculous gags and impeccable pacing to work the audience up into a frenzy. 

Grandpa’s answer to Timmy’s ‘birds and the bees’ query was wholly representative of his senility.

Then the third act happens. All of the gleeful sprinting through set pieces and establishing of characters has been taken care of and now the plot sort of steps forward and re-asserts itself and it’s at this point that the film really begins to suffer. Time travel movies all have to deal with tortured logic, the important thing is that they either power through the inconsistencies with characters and situations that will make you forget about the general implausibility of the story being told (at least until after the film) or risk falling apart. Despite an amusing alternate timeline in which bowler hats have taken over mankind, the third act is a tedious stumble towards tying up each and every plot thread from the entire movie, and the connections are perfunctory at best and offensive at worst (explaining away a genuine problem with the film by having a character’s name change in the final moments was an explosive torrent of diarrhea on the filmmakers part). By all account this was a troubled film from the start with numerous changes made to the script throughout its production (with Pixar’s own John Lasseter coming in to make some script suggestions at some point in the game), and that shows in the strain the third act puts on the film’s denouement which manages some emotional resonance despite the messiness that accompanied it.

However, even though the final portion of the film is a clusterfuck to the nth degree, I can’t dismiss this film at all. There’s an infectious energy to the first 2/3rds that carries the film past its plot defects and third act missteps. It’s an imperfect film to be sure, but there’s so many little touches that the film gets right: I love that the main character is an orphan who desperately wants to know why his biological mother gave him away, there’s some great music utilized throughout (Danny Elfman’s score isn’t bad, but the real treat is getting two Rufus Wainwright songs in the film), I love the fact that the filmmakers don’t make a big show of a callback to one of their earlier jokes towards the end of the film and just let it sit there for people to enjoy on its own terms, and I absolutely love the varied frame of reference being utilized here (Frank Capra to Astro Boy to German Expressionism to zombie horror) by the creators. The way I’ve been describing the film you’d almost think it was destined for cult classic status; it’s very entertaining when it’s hitting on all cylinders, but the film has enough in the way of flaws that you have to love it in spite of something. I don’t know the likelihood of a throwaway Disney CG animation film finding an audience and flowering on home video, but this is something that at least deserves a peek to see if you can get past its blemishes to enjoy the substantial amount of entertainment it has to offer.  Recommended (despite the earlier stated caveats).

This quote is taken slightly out of context for the sake of the viewer: all mentions of cars running on a fuel comprised of Jew-child blood have been removed.

The Package

The cover art falls prey to the Disney pitfall of just displaying the main characters on the cover without any artful aspirations, but it’s shiny, so points for that. As to be expected, the picture looks and sounds as pristine as the majority of Disney’s releases do. The special features gravitate towards the children audience, but a few of them manage to be informative and interesting and are worth a spin. There’s the deleted scenes with a little intro to each from director Anderson explaining why they had to go which are interesting and deserving of their deletion as well as a couple of forgettable music videos as well.  The “Inventions that Shapes the World” featurette is geared at kids to show them some of the great inventions of our time and is notable for having the balls to call Walt Disney’s invention of the theme park as somehow comparable to the printing press or electricity. The Family Function game is as useless as any game on a DVD as a special feature, and I can’t imagine it capturing the imagination of any child. The audio commentary is a little strange as they try to pander to both those interested in the technical details of the filming and inception of the story (i.e. adults) as well as those who will be entertained by silly tangents from a in-character cameo from one of the movie’s stars (aka kids). This push and pull doesn’t sink the commentary by any means, which is a congenial and easy to listen to affair packed with information by director Stephen Anderson and the in-character bowler hat guy interruptions are amusing enough and come few and far between. Overall, it’s a nice package to compliment a movie that may find a niche audience down the line.

7.4 out of 10


This review has the Tom Selleck seal of approval.

*Which, by the way, completely invalidates my previous feelings about 3-D (namely, that it works solely as a gimmick such as smell-o-vision or buzzers inserted in the seat cushions) and showcases it as a way of further integrating the audience into the movie’s experience, adding depth to the background and bringing the foreground closer, making it easier to lose yourself in the viewing process.  It’s really wonderful stuff.