Tuesday, March 24, 2015


RELEASE DATE: Friday 23rd March 2007

Very loosely based on a picture-story book called "A Day With Wilbur Robinson," Disney's 47th Animated Feature was originally scheduled to be a 2006 release. However, in early 2006 Disney paid a huge amount of money to purchase Pixar, and John Lasseter was immediately put in charge of all animation at Disney. When he saw a work-in-progress screening of Meet The Robinsons he was not particularly impressed. Lasseter, who had been overseeing Pixar's film development since the early 1990s, worked with the "Robinsons" team on adding some major changes to the plot, in particular to the villain. The film was delayed, and by the time it was finally released in March 2007 about 60% of the film had changed.

Unfortunately, Meet The Robinsons wasn't much of a hit. It made about half as much as Chicken Little at the box-office, proving once again that with ticket sales, quality does not necessarily equate to popularity with Disney.

The story begins on the steps of an orphanage, and to make sure everyone realises this is a flashback prologue, the entire scene is sepia-toned. A hooded mother leaves her baby on the steps of the orphanage, where he will spend his entire childhood wondering who his mother was and why she abandoned him.

This boy becomes known as Lewis, and he fancies himself as an inventor. He keeps his little roommate Goob awake all night as he tinkers with his latest contraptions. Poor Lewis never seems to be able to find the right parents to adopt him. When a prospective couple arrives, he shows them his new Peanut-Butter-And-Jelly gun, but realises too late that the father is allergic to peanuts. Suffice to say, he once again misses out on adoption.

Lewis takes his ultimate invention, the Memory Scanner, to the local science fair, hoping to win the favour of the judges. While he sets up, he is closely monitored by an unfamiliar boy.

The boy introduces himself as Wilbur Robinson, and tells Lewis he is a time cop from the future. He claims that a man in a bowler hat has stolen his time machine and he needs to get it back. The Bowler Hat Guy watches from the shadows with keen interest. His hat, moving with a mind of its own, sneakily sabotages Lewis's machine.

When it is time for Lewis to showcase his invention, it goes horribly wrong and sends the entire fair into a state of chaos. Once everybody has evacuated, the Bowler Hat Guy steals the Memory Scanner for himself.

Later that day, Wilbur Robinson meets Lewis on the rooftop of the orphanage and agrees to take him into the future.

The boys get into an argument and crash the time machine. Wilbur is horrified. He is going to be in so much trouble! He had taken the time machine in secret to get another time machine back from the Bowler Hat Guy, but now one is missing and the other one is damaged. Lewis agrees to try and fix the time machine, but Wilbur tells him he will need to hide in secret.

Meanwhile, back in the present, the Bowler Hat Guy tries to sell the Memory Scanner concept as his own. It doesn't go well, and he ends up thrown out on to the street.

Lewis does not stay hidden for long. He is soon introduced to the entire Robinson family, an odd and wildly eccentric bunch of people.

Wilbur's mother seems nice and relatively normal, even if she does conduct a rat-pack group of singing frogs...

Meanwhile, back in the present, the Bowler Hat Guy tries to ambush Lewis in his room, but only finds poor Goob, who has just been beaten up for missing a crucial catch in his baseball game. Once he realises Lewis has gone to the future, the Bowler Hat Guy leaps into his stolen time machine and leaves the present behind.

Lewis works hard to try and fix the other time machine, until dinnertime. Meals in the Robinson house are an insane affair. Lewis is enraptured by the zaniness of the household and begins to wish he could be a part of this family.

The Bowler Hat Guy uses his hat (named Doris) to control the mind of a singing frog. He instructs the frog to sieze Lewis, but the frog is quite sure this would be quite impossible with his little arms, and perhaps the Bowler Hat Guy didn't properly think this plan through...

The next idea seems like genius! The Bowler Hat Guy travels back in time and returns with a Tyrannosaurus Rex, once again under mind control. This monster causes a huge commotion until he gets stuck due to his huge head and tiny arms. He thinks perhaps the Bowler Hat Guy didn't properly think this plan through...

The Robinsons like Lewis so much they suggest that they might be able to adopt him. Wilbur is forced to admit he brought Lewis from the past, and once the family sees Lewis's hair they sadly admit that it's impossible for them to adopt him. Lewis, angry at Wilbur for deceiving him, goes with the Bowler Hat Guy.

Lewis soon learns the truth of the Bowler Hat Guy's past, what caused him to become such a bitter person and where Doris came from.

Suddenly Lewis finds himself in a nightmarish alternate future where evil bowler hats are controlling the entire human population. His only hope is to race back in time and stop the Bowler Hat Guy from signing a contract.

Lewis destroys Doris by deciding never to invent her. The happier future is restored. The Bowler Hat Guy, now without a purpose in life, wanders away.

As Wilbur's father returns to the house, Lewis finally gets to meet his future self. (They get along great!) Wilbur agrees to take Lewis back to his own time so that he can perfect the Memory Scanner, but first he agrees to take him back to the moment he was abandoned at the orphanage.

Lewis almost stops his mother from leaving him on the doorstep, but in the end realises that this single act set his entire future in motion, and if he changes the past, none of the future Robinson house would exist. So he lets her go. Into the present, he changes Goob's future for the better and succeeds in making his Memory Scanner work. This impresses one of the judges so much, she and her husband decide to adopt Lewis, which will eventually lead to the future Robinson household he has already seen. Everything is finally going wonderfully and Lewis gets back to inventing!

IRVYNE: Next to Treasure Planet, I feel that Meet The Robinsons is another hidden gem in the Disney collection. Not many people saw it on its first release, and it seems to have disappeared into the abyss of time, but it's a really enjoyable film. Unlike Chicken Little, it is filled with genuinely likeable and entertaining characters who have stories you actually care about.
But even though it has a lot of heart, it's also off-the-wall crazy. Pretty much everything in this film is oddball, especially once Lewis travels to the future. It has a manic ADHD feel to it, swishing along at a blistering pace without a second to take a breath. Some might find this off-putting, but I find it refreshing. After Chicken Little, in which not-much happened in the entire movie, Meet The Robinsons feels like it's constantly moving in fast-forward!
One of the best characters in the movie is undoubtedly the Bowler Hat Guy. What a fantastic villain! He initially comes across as a 1920s-style cliche who would likely tie damsels to a railway track, but he actually has a tragic and meaningful character arc himself, and his ending is not what you would
expect. A really excellent character who has been sadly forgotten in Disney history.
Meet The Robinsons is funny, clever, absolutely bonkers at times and also heartfelt. I think the time that John Lasseter took to fine-tune the story definitely paid off.
Perhaps it was the extra years of experience. Perhaps it was the merger with Pixar. But Meet The Robinsons is a much more confident attempt at C.G. animation than Chicken Little before it. There would still be improvements in future films, but at least this movie has an appealing and consistant tone. I love all the designs of the utopian future, especially since it borrows so heavily from early 20th century art-deco kind of design.

While Meet The Robinsons is not a musical, it does have a substantial soundtrack. Rufus Wainwright provides two of the songs "Another Believer" and "The Motion Waltz," which add some emotional weight to the scenes. Jamie Cullum sings on two songs as the club-singing frog: "Where Is Your Heart At" and "Give Me The Simple Life." The All-American Rejects sing "The Future Has Arrived," which is played as Lewis and Wilbur first arrive in the future.

There are a couple of other end-credits songs, including the hit "Little Wonders" from Rob Thomas and "Kids of the Future" by the Jonas Brothers, which is a remake of the Kim Wilde song "Kids In America."

The score by Danny Elfman is fun and quirky, befitting the film it was created for.

The music is certainly not something that stands out or is particularly memorable in this film, but as a standalone soundtrack, it's actually pretty good and very listenable. Good stuff.

Meet The Robinsons is definitely worth a watch. It's got a fun time-travelling story, a fantastic over-the-top villain, a heartfelt story of family and the need for it, and it's pretty much bonkers-crazy at the same time. It's unlike anything else in the Disney catalogue, but I find it to be an unexpected pleasure. I'll definitely watch this one again in the future.

MALEFICENT: I loved it! Hooray! That is the first time I've seen Meet The Robinsons.

PASCAL: Me too! It's really cool!

WENDY: I'd attempted to watch it before but I fell asleep in the middle. I stayed awake for the whole movie this time! Hooray!

IRVYNE: I'd only seen it once before in the cinema, and it's amazing how much I'd forgotten. It's a thousand times better than Chicken Little!

MALEFICENT: Ninety-six billion times better than Chicken Little. I love the section in the middle where Lewis meets all of the random family members. It flies by so fast!

PASCAL: They're all so quirky! But they're all accepted as family no matter how weird they are. I also love how they celebrate failure! Such a nicer story than Chicken Little.

IRVYNE: Yeah, in that movie it was like: "You failed, now everybody HATES you."

WENDY: How funny is the frog mafia?

IRVYNE: It's hilarious. It's like the writers just took every crazy idea they could think of and crammed it all into this story. Did you see the quick Space Mountain cameo? Love it!

MALEFICENT: So... I think Maleficent might have almost met her match in overtly evil bad guys! Bowler Hat Guy is like the most over-the-top Commedia Dell'arte style villain! He's brilliant!

PASCAL: He's so awesomely stupid! You guys laughed out loud a LOT at him.

MALEFICENT: I think I was cackling the entire way through this movie.

PASCAL: You were! I was laughing more on the inside. I thought it was funny, but also really silly.

WENDY: Did you guess the villain's big reveal, or was it a surprise?

IRVYNE: I guessed it SO early.

WENDY: I guessed the connection with Wilbur's dad very early on, but Bowler Hat Guy's identity was a complete surprise to me.

PASCAL: Even when he's sitting on the bed talking to Goob about being angry, I still didn't get it.

IRVYNE: Oh cool. Here I was thinking that they'd made it WAY too obvious.

MALEFICENT: I love how evil the hat - Doris - is!

IRVYNE: Yeah, what a great concept for a baddy. And so off-the-wall!
MALEFICENT: Speaking of working out the plot early, it took me quite a while to get the whole hair thing, and why Lewis had to hide his hair from the Robinsons. I thought maybe everyone in the future was supposed to have plastic-looking hair.
WENDY: Clearly the mother's genes are stronger in that family.

MALEFICENT: I think one of the reasons I didn't make the connection is that I thought they'd actually come hundreds of years into the future. It seemed way too different to be just like 20 years or whatever.
WENDY: The future looks beautiful. All the designs in art-deco style are so cool.

PASCAL: Bubbles! I love the bubbles!

MALEFICENT: I want a big bubble-making machine like the one in this movie!

PASCAL: Yes! And you'd need a popping machine too!

IRVYNE: Once again, I don't think this feels much like a Disney film. But at least it's fun and entertaining this time! Whereas Chicken Little felt like Disney was trying to be Dreamworks, this kind of feels like Disney trying to be Pixar.

WENDY: It feels quite Disney-ish to me, but yeah, I can see the Pixar connection.

MALEFICENT: Definitely more Disney than Pixar.

IRVYNE: It's very contemporary. Disney doesn't traditionally do contemporary stories. Usually it's "once upon a time in a faraway land." But one thing I just noticed, is that Meet The Robinsons has definite links with Disney's newest film Big Hero 6, about a teenager who invents robots. I wonder who would win in an inventing contest, Lewis or Hiro?

WENDY: This is a good film. Not the greatest, but not bad.

IRVYNE: It's definitely more enjoyable than the last few: Chicken Little, Home On The Range, Brother Bear. I'd rate it above all of them. If the future ends up looking like Meet The Robinsons, I think I can live with that.

1 comment:

  1. "Keep Moving Forward" = An excuse for Disney to abandon hand-drawn animation while telling the audience to go along for the ride.

    I swear there must be some hidden studio propaganda there.