Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons
Russell Puntenney
Grade: B

Disney Tries Till it Succeeds

"Keep moving forward." As Disney will gladly tell you, long before the phrase became the Toyota company's favorite slogan, it was actually a quote from Walt himself, the most famous Disney of all. With "Meet the Robinsons," Disney not only reclaims the motivational saying, they use it as the theme of the film that delivers an admirable message to kids and adults alike.

Families, then will at least appreciate "Meet the Robinsons," the computer-animated story of an orphaned 12-year-old on an extraordinary voyage to find his real mother, but this is not to say the movie is without its shortcomings. The jokes are as funny as need be, the characters are very lifelike, and the moral is quite poignant, but there are several instances in which it seems the movie, directed by Stephen J. Anderson, forgets its most important audience: parents and, yes, kids.

Lewis is the aforementioned orphan, voiced by Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry, who winds up, despite his unfortunate upbringing, an aspiring inventor and a sheer genius. His tireless attempts at creating new devices have rarely been successful as the film begins, but they have accomplished two things we know: they've kept his poor roommate "Goob" up all night for a very long time as a result of Lewis' work, and they've prevented any potential parents from adopting the young boy as a result of some disastrous malfunctions which often occur during adoption interviews.

As the school science fair commences, however, Lewis seems to have finally succeeded with a brilliant new invention, a modified helmet of sorts that can abstract from one's brain cells any visual image that person has seen in his or her lifetime. All you have to do is enter the time and date you want to see. Lewis is confident that with his new gadget, he can finally see what his real mother looked like, track her down and live as a happy family. If only it were that easy.

While at the fair, an equally-aged stranger named Wilbur Robinson, who claims to be from the future, warns Lewis that another figure from the future has also returned to Lewis' time in order to disrupt his invention, a man wearing a bowler hat. Sure enough, Bowler Hat Guy makes a sneaky appearance, lurking around the fair in secrecy, and Lewis's invention causes yet another disastrous scene when he tries to show it to the judges. Still, this is not enough to convince Lewis that his new friend Wilbur really is from the future, so Wilbur decides to prove it: they both climb in Wilbur's invisible, flying time machine car and head back to Wilbur's time.

When they crash said time machine after returning, we learn that this is one of only two time machines in existence at the time, both of which belong to Wilbur's father, the other of which is now in possession of, who else, Bowler Hat Guy. Stranded for the time being, Lewis becomes fascinated by both the astonishing technological advances of the future and the quirky Robinson family Wilbur comes from. They are an extended family all living in the same futuristic mansion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all, and each is a unique and integral part. Grandpa likes to walk around with his clothes on backwards and a fake face drawn on the back of his bald head, and Wilbur's mother Franny is the maestro of a band of frogs she's taught to play music.

While Lewis works on fixing the time machine, Bowler Hat Guy is still busy trying to steal the young boy's invention from the past, but he doesn't know how to operate it. He makes several attempts to retrieve this information from Lewis while at the Robinson house, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex he sends seen in most of the previews, but it's completely unclear while making these attempts what Bowler Hat Guy wants the invention for, who the Robinson family really is, or if Wilbur is even on Lewis's side or not.

This confusion, along with the often mind-boggling complexities of time travel, will make "Meet the Robinsons," needless to say, tough for some kids and even some adults to follow. As long as you can be patient, however, the payoff will be quite rewarding once all the details fall into place. Even so, I imagine it will be quite aggravating for plenty of families waiting for the chaos to make sense.

Few of the jokes are intended for adults specifically, too, so parents may find themselves bored at times. With the option of seeing the movie in 3-D, though, and even in the regular version, the special effects are definitely on par. The buildings, landscapes, and other features of the futuristic city the Robinsons live in are very fun to view. Nothing groundbreaking here, but nothing disappointing either.

As an individual film, then, this should satisfy most families, especially with a theme so commendable, a restatement of "if at first you don't succeed." As a Disney movie, however, this isn't exactly "The Lion King." There aren't many characters you really connect with and no real punch lines that will stay with you, although Harland Williams does a good supporting job as a robotic helper in the Robinson house, and another celebrity better left anonymous makes for a few very funny scenes. And even if it isn't as memorable as the company's countless other classics, it's still a huge step in the right direction, compared to many of the company's other recent releases, which kind of made you wonder if Disney really was, as they claim to be, moving forward instead of back.

Accordingly, the Robinsons are definitely a family worth meeting, I'm just not sure how strong of an impression they'll ultimately leave.