I have not been that fond of some of Disney’s creative decisions in the last few years, whether it’s abandoning 2-D animation or trying to launch a second sequel to Toy Story without Pixar. One decision I can’t fault however, is the post-Pixar acquisition choice to put John Lassater in charge of all Disney animation. It was undoubtedly the right call judging from the first result of his stewardship, Meet the Robinsons, a movie I did not have a lot of hope for judging from the trailer, but which I’ve seen an infinite number of times since last fall.
The film is about Lewis, an orphaned boy that lives for science and his inventions while unintentionally interrupting the sleep patterns of his roommate “Goob”. Lewis is a particularly problematic kid to place with a family as he frequently likes to show off his inventions, which are a few well placed adjustments away from not blowing up. Lewis’s latest invention is a memory scanner, a device created with the intent to see the face of the mother that left him at the orphanage. But after another perceived failure, Lewis is visited by Wilbur, a teenager from the future who warns Lewis of a sinister man in a bowler hat that’s out to get him and his scanner. Any initial scepticism on Lewis’s part is lost when Wilbur takes him back to the future, where they have all kinds of wacky adventures while Wilbur tries to hide Lewis’s true identity from his family: the Robinsons.
The CG animation serves the story well as the bright and bubbly future of the Robinsons is brilliantly realized. The humour is funny without being pushy and the script is blissfully sparse of adult pop culture references that children will never get with the exception of a genetically enhanced singing frog named Frankie who talks with a New Jersey accent. There’s something about it that harkens back to classic Disney, and I’m not just talking about the inclusion of the Mickey Mouse classic “Boat Builders” from 1938 before the main show. The film has a non-pushy message about how failure helps us learn and how we should keep moving forward and not dwell on those failures. Both of these are solid, universal and non-partisan messages that any parent should be happy to leave their kids with after the credits roll.
Meet the Robinsons isn’t perfect though. Lassater is reputed to have supervised a significant reworking of the film, and while he seems to have made it work for the most part, it just doesn’t reach the level of instant Disney classic. The Robinsons’ future isn’t all that terribly original either with its transport tubes, bubble design and robot butlers. The identity of both the Robinson patriarch and the evil Man in the Bowler Hat were a little easy to figure out, but I actually enjoyed the journey all the same, though the story leaves a lot of plot holes in its wake despite the attempts at creating consistency. But I do give credit to the moviemakers for going a little dark when Lewis sees a potential dystopian future ruled by the evil sentient bowler hat named Doris.
All the same, Meet the Robinsons is funny and entertaining enough to forgive any clash of styles or unoriginality of the story. It’s bright and colourful and a really good family movie that everyone can enjoy for the same reasons. Is Disney back on track after years of creative bankruptcy? Not quite, but the Robinsons definitely represent a few steps in the right direction.