MEET THE ROBINSONS (Stephen J. Anderson, 2007)
Lewis is a smart, creative kid who can make anything he could ever want except for one thing: a family. Left on an orphanage's doorstep as a baby, Lewis dreams of the mother who gave him up and the parents who have yet to adopt him.
Much to his baseball-obsessed roommate Michael "Goob" Yagoobian's aggravation, Lewis works day and night on his most ambitious project yet. Although his memory scanner is ostensibly a science fair project, the invention's true purpose is to help him remember what his mother looked like so he can be go on a quest to be reunited with her.
Lewis' plan in MEET THE ROBINSONS changes course when a kid named Wilbur Robinson appears on the scene. He claims to be from the future and warns Lewis to watch out for the twirly-mustached Bowler Hat Guy. Naturally, Lewis is skeptical of the kid with the prominent cowlick, but he's inclined to believe the claim when the man in question crashes the science fair, sabotages his invention, and slips away with the contraption.
The bespectacled brainiac and his new friend hop into Wilbur's time machine with the future their destination and a desire to make things right their mission. Although Wilbur tries to keep Lewis hidden from his family, Lewis can't help but meet the mansion populated with playful eccentrics. Although he's had to jump forward in time, he's found the family he's always wanted. Unfortunately, Lewis probably won't be allowed to stay.
The mantra in MEET THE ROBINSONS is "keep moving forward", but it's in going back to traditional narrative and filmmaking values that helps set this animated romp apart from many of its contemporaries. Streams of pop culture references and the trumpeting of stunt voicecasting in today's animated films have pulled the emphasis from story. MEET THE ROBINSONS proudly sets its focus on telling a good story rather than getting caught up in trying to be hip and determining what celebrity name can be put on the poster.
The film preaches embracing mistakes as learning opportunities instead of things to regret. This "keep moving forward" philosophy is put to practice in all of its messy and ambitious form. The story is more complicated and meandering--not to mention a tad weighty--than is necessary. As can be the case with corrective measures, MEET THE ROBINSONS over does it. Still, it's encouraging that the film slips up from time to time in pursuit of entertaining with off-the-wall humor and delivering a message. If it gets off course in forging its own path, that's OK.
MEET THE ROBINSONS stays on message in its technical aspects too. It seems that the sky is the limit for what animators can do these days. The retrofuturist MEET THE ROBINSONS boasts delightful strokes that render a bright shining tomorrow in 3-D. (The film is also being exhibited in a 2-D version.) The novelty of 3-D wears off after a short period of time, but the depth of field and tactile sense on display is something to behold.
The jokes can be very random, a quality that gives the film much of its zing. Equally surprising is the nuanced view of the so-called villains in MEET THE ROBINSONS. While the Bowler Hat Guy and his scheming, metallic-tentacled hat Doris fit the bad guy mold, their backstories paint sympathetic portraits that come entirely unexpected. Bowler Hat Guy's past, present, and future add a poignant touch to this otherwise cheerful and good-natured film.