IMAGE: Disney, Wikipedia.org
A much more toned-down plot compared to the previous entries in the series, not going for super-serious or super-silly. Meet the Robinsons is remembered more fondly for its tonal balances and stronger plot with moments that hit right in the heart. For once, we’re not watching a journey / travel movie with a destination, but a character-driven romp with a ‘fix the thing to get the thing’ plot, in this case, fix the time machine to get to the memory machine at the science fair.
The beginning is one of the best parts, detailing Lewis’ adoption journey and inventions. The book the film is based on takes up the ‘meeting the family’ portion in the middle, and the rest of the movie surrounding that was built incredibly well. The middle portion at the middle does add some weird and out-there parts to the story that may seem like padding, but the reactions to the characters and the low stakes being played high makes these strange story beats work.
The plot is also very dense, but simple enough to explain, yet during the third act there are some time travel inconsistencies (though, to be fair, every single time travel film has time travel inconsistencies) but it pulls itself together nicely in the end. Also, to note, this film has some of the best executed twists in a Disney film to date, including the films not yet reviewed on this site. The message this film brings and the ending quite also brings a huge smile to my face.
My PLOT RATING is 9 / 10.
Lewis (Daniel Hansen) is a very good protagonist. We immediately get his character, backstory, and motive in the first few minutes, and he is written well, unlike other Disney children. His drive to invent and ‘keep moving forward’ is inspiring. It’s nice how he blends in with the Robinsons and is part of the fun instead of being the straight man. He has a lot of innocent wonder and some killer inventing skills. There are points where he is gullible to some story conventions but he eventually wises up.
Wilbur (Wesley Singerman) isn’t that great a character. In fact, he’s pretty flat. He looks straight out of Jimmy Neutron and has that same low-budget feel too. His emotions don’t match the scenes, and he’s pretty much a catalyst for the plot to happen. He doesn’t even affect the climax of the film, but then again, at that point, it’s down to Lewis.
The Robinsons are too numerous to mention, but they’re all crazy and all awesome. Each member isn’t focused on for too long, but they’re all memorable and more varied than the last. Franny (Nicole Sullivan), Grandpa Bud (Stephen J. Anderson), Uncle Art (Adam West), and Fritz (Ethan Sandler) and Petunia (also Ethan Sandler) are all standouts, and the rest are equally as great. The family seems ripe for a television series, but alas, that was not to be. The father also has a great joke relating to him and is a standout. I also have to mention their robot Carl, who puts up with the family’s weirdness and antics better than most other robots would.
The Bowler Hat Guy (director Stephen J. Anderson (it was going to be Jim Carrey, but personally, Anderson did a better and more low key job)) is probably one of my favorite Disney villains. He’s hilariously ineffectual 50% of the time and hits a lot of villain hallmarks the other 50%. The jagged complexity of his long teeth, the hooked nose, the balding dome of hair topped with the bowler hat Doris (another great character in her own right, the two villains play off each other really well), and his poncho-like cape and black onesie are plucked from Snidely Whiplash himself. The way he moves and slinks across the screen like a spider, and alternately skipping with glee is great character demonstration. You know exactly how effective his villainy is by how he moves. His backstory and motives, as well as his comeuppance are all nuanced and explained well, and the aftermath of his evil plan is yet another great twist the film has to offer. More importantly, this film answers my childhood question on what the villain does after the story is over… But more importantly, I have to mention that he’s basically a prototype Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, strangely enough, a mere five months before the show’s premiere. The Bowler Hat Guy is a love letter and a send-off to the classic, simple, evil Disney Villains of yesteryear, and a look forward to the more complex, nuanced, real villains of the more recent films.
The minor characters are also very good. Mildred (Angela Bassett), the orphanage director is a standout, brings a more mature spotlight to orphans in children’s films. She encourages Lewis yet doesn’t treat him like a little child. She knows where he is coming from yet doesn’t give in totally to his crazy inventions. Dr. Krunkelhorn (Laurie Metcalf) is also really fun as when we meet her, as she’s hopped up on experimental caffeine patches, as are the rest of the teachers, the Coach (Don Hall, doing his best Patrick Warburton) and Mr. Willerstein (Tom Kenny) playing well off each other. Lewis’ roommate / assistant Goob (Matthew Josten) is a very dry-humored character, and has a lot of funny background moments. The singing and dancing frogs (the lead named ‘Frankie’ (Adrian Redson, Jamie Cullum)) are also a great homage to the mafia and old crooners, paying homage to Frank Sinatra’s alleged connections with the mob.
My CHARACTER RATING is 9 / 10.
Sharp, rapid-fire, self-aware, non sequitur, and hysterical. So much humor and drama packed in this film. The line deliveries are on point, and the film lets dialogue hang during dramatic moments instead of throwing in ill-timed jokes. Many parts of the film had me go ‘wow’ at how mature the dialogue and character decisions were, and that’s rare for a Disney film. The dialogue is varied per character, and the jokes actually know when to stop, making this one of the most funniest but heartfelt dialogues in the canon. The cast also helps bolster any lines that may be too strange, and the intelligent self-aware jokes and corniness works in concert with the more heartfelt moments.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 10 / 10.
Being one of the first few of Disney’s CGI films, the effects here aren’t up to par with what is being made now. The character movement is amazing though, with smooth animations and snappy facial expressions and quick movements when needed. Liquid and light are the stars here, with the morning giving way to afternoon, dusk, and night during one scene, and liquid materials from water to dough having proper consistency. Explosions and fire look good, if low budget, and the animators know this, using them sparingly. Texturing, however is somewhat of a letdown, blades of grass looking artificial and stiff, the aforementioned dough looking like clay, but most of all, skin looking like plastic. The skin texture something that almost puts me off of the film if it weren’t for the story, characters, and writing.
My EFFECTS RATING is 8 / 10.
Danny Elfman brings a great, quirky score here, mixing an old-school orchestra with new-school synth, and whatever else fits the moment. The score is fun, bouncy, and weird, just like the film.
Another Believer (Rufus Wainwright) – A wistful and lackadaisical song that yearns for yesteryear, combining the synth and orchestra of the film proper. Works excellently for the montage during the film and great for a car ride.
Little Wonders (Rob Thomas) – A wonderful song about the message of the film: no matter how much you fail, and how much time you’ve invested, keep those moments with you and they’ll lead you to success. Beautiful.
The Future Has Arrived (The All-American Rejects) – An upbeat rock song with some old-school choir, and a message about invention. Written by Danny Elfman, and sung by a band that I haven’t heard of since 2006.
Where Is Your Heart At / Give Me the Simple Life (Jamie Cullum) – A sendup of old crooner songs in the style of Frank Sinatra or the more recent Michael Buble (who was rising to fame at the time of the film’s creation), both songs are great and nostalgic, the second being the stronger song of the two.
The Motion Waltz (Emotional Commotion) – An interesting song with a sliding scale of a singer, and a beautiful backing track of violins and piano, but it sounds beautiful.
There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (They Might Be Giants) – A throwback to Disney’s own ‘Carousel of Progress’ ride at Disneyland, this is pure cheesy 1950’s complete with an opera singer in the background. I honestly can’t tell if this is being sincere or mocking but I love it all the same.
Kids of the Future (Jonas Brothers) – An upbeat rock song focused on the film, based on the ‘Kids of America’ song. It’s a clever homage and a great sendoff to the film.
My MUSIC RATING is 10 / 10.
Meet the Robinsons is an oft-forgotten film that always brings a smile to my face when its mentioned. It’s so off-the-wall and weird that it probably doesn’t come close to mainstream, but it does have a cult following online, and it deserves more eyes and ears. This film has a beautiful message that directly ties into the values of the company presenting it, and it’s such a joy to watch.
The plot is refreshing and has several plot twists that hold up on multiple viewings, with a barrage of wonderfully written characters that don’t overstay their welcome, but leave enough of an impact to be remembered. The dialogue is pitch-perfect, with nicely timed jokes, moments that tug at your heart, and clever self-aware moments that don’t get stale. The effects, while dated, still mostly hold up, and the character animation makes up for those failings along with the ever-advancing light and liquid effects. The music is possibly weirder than the film itself, and perfectly matches each scene, but doesn’t get in the way of it. The film overall displays intelligence, self-awareness, and a heart that I haven’t really seen so overtly displayed in a Disney film.
Meet the Robinsons is most importantly a sendoff to the olden days of Disney. Soon we will no longer get the simple ‘evil for the sake of evil’ villain or the dozens of weird, quirky characters, or even the pop songs in lieu of in-universe singing. Disney is a company that has to stay on top of things, and get ahead of trends, casting aside ideas that don’t work. Sadly, this film is a cast-off in and of itself, barely breaking even in the theaters. However, this film hold a special place in the hearts of many (mine included), and we do have a lot of great films to go (Eleven from now to be exact).
So, in the words of many in the film, we must…
Keep moving forward.
My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s Meet the Robinsons is 92%.
We’re going to HOLLYWOOD!!!