Containing some funny bits, some madcap elements and a fun story, “Meet the Robinsons”, the newest animated film from Disney, is a good, amusing, well-made film for the entire family. Short on humor for the adults, it falls short of joining the ranks of other modern Disney classics like “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast” or “Aladdin”. What “Robinsons” will be remembered for is the use of Disney Digital 3-D, an amazing advancement in the art of movie going.
Lewis, an orphan at the 6th Street Orphanage, is fed up with all of the interviews Mildred (Angela Bassett) has arranged. None of the prospective parents want a weird, bookish kid who is more interested in inventions than sports. Lewis decides he will invent a machine to help him recover the memory of his mother, on the night she left him at the orphanage, and find her again. Goob, Lewis’ younger roommate, is not surprised when Lewis keeps him up all night working on the invention for the science fair the next day. Just as Lewis is about to put his invention on display, Wilbur, a strange kid appears out of nowhere and tries to help Lewis keep his project out of the hands of Bowler Hat Guy. Sure enough, Bowler Hat Guy sabotages the event and chaos ensues. Desperate to right things, Wilbur reveals he is from the future and tries to get Lewis to persevere and recreate the Memory Scanner. Lewis is unconvinced, until Wilbur takes him to the future and introduces him to his family, the Robinsons, a strange collection of oddballs. Then, Bowler Hat Guy shows up and wreaks more havoc.
Directed by Stephen Anderson, who got his start working as a Story Supervisor on other, better Disney films, “Meet The Robinsons” is good, but not great. It is a better use, a better example of Disney Digital 3-D, heightening the experience and making the film better than it actually is.
The film begins in “Present Day” as we follow Lewis, a thirteen year old orphan who comes up with some crazy inventions and deals with interviews with prospective adoptive parents. The characters are all fashioned in a peculiar 3-D modeling way, heightening specific features of each character, making them look unique and more 3-D than we have see in the past. Lewis has spiky blond hair. Goob is younger and has a large forehead to match his big, sad eyes. Mildred has a tall skinny body hidden under long sweaters and dresses. Bowler Hat Guy has a little comb over and tall, stick thin body. While the characters look strange, they are all very different and unique.
When the action shifts to the future, this trend continues. Wilbur looks a bit like a 50’s rocker, with blue jeans, black t-shirt and a bit of a pompadour. His mom seems to favor the fashion trends of this era, wearing a poodle skirt. There is an obese Uncle who sits in a moving arm chair who resembles, more than a little, Fatty Arbuckle, the silent film comedian. Each character seems to have been designed to make them appear different from every other character. In a way, this is refreshing and makes them more reminiscent of actually people, even when they are this stylized.
The story is a bit madcap, zooming back and forth between time periods. At times, the action is so zany and non-sensical that you can’t help but laugh. But the film is missing the humor many adults have come to expect from the classic modern Disney films. You know, the type of throwaway lines referencing pop culture or making fun of what it means to be an adult, the type of lines that make adults chuckle. If a film is only geared for the children, the adults start squirming in their seats and the experience becomes that of a ‘chauffeur’. If the adults enjoy the film, they bond with their kids more and the experience becomes more memorable. “Meet The Robinsons” has some funny moments, but it isn’t a classic. There are some madcap moments with a Tyrannosaurus Rex Bowler Hat Guy brings back from the past, or the “Toy Story” films, and a group of singing frogs wearing suits from the 50s add some levity.
But the story is too heavily centered on Lewis and Wilbur, with the adults providing brief moments of escape. Virtually every scene features Lewis and Wilbur in some capacity and this doesn’t allow for a lot of time to develop any of the adult characters. Because we don’t spend a lot of time with them, the film seems much more of a ‘Kid’s story’ than a ‘Modern Classic’.
The voice actors have done a good job. The stand outs are Stephen Anderson (the director of the film) providing the voice of Bowler Hat Guy, giving him a Snidely J. Whiplash feel and Laurie Metcalf (best known as the sister of “Roseanne”) providing the voice for Lucille Krunkelhorn, a scientist from a large corporation who is addicted to caffeine patches.
The real excitement in “Meet The Robinsons” comes from the use of Disney Digital 3-D. This new process represents a huge improvement from the 3-D films of yesteryear. With the release of “Monster House” last summer, which is not a Disney release, but also uses a new form of this technique, we still have to wear glasses, but the use of IMAX screens is no longer necessary. Because the screen is large, but not huge, we can watch the action a little more easily, making it more easy to get lost in the action. The advance in the technique also has improved the process, there are no more lines around the images, and the characters are crystal clear and really appear to be 3-D. It is a lot of fun to watch and I can only imagine what the next technological advance will bring. Holographic films? Images beamed directly into our heads?
The folks at Disney have included a Donald Duck/ Chip & Dale cartoon that was originally made in Stereoscopic 3-D, the old process. They have gussied it up and included it with this new release. It looks good, and it is fun to see, but it also shows us how much more advanced the process has become. We can see the changes in the two processes. It was a brilliant idea for Disney to include this, to allow us to see it again, but it also cleverly points out how far the process has come.
Last October, Disney re-released “The Nightmare Before Christmas” using this 3-D technique, and it was exciting to see. Before “Robinsons”, they ran the trailer for the Tim Burton/ Henry Selick classic and are apparently re-releasing it this October. “Nightmare” is always good, but the 3-D technique doesn’t add a lot, because the film wasn’t originally made in this process. “Robinsons” and “Monster House”, films made originally in this process are able to take advantage of everything it has to offer, rather than feeling like a tacked on afterthought.
Also, “Meet The Robinsons” is playing in some theaters without the 3-D process. In my opinion, this is the primary reason to see this film. If the theater you are about to walk into isn’t showing it in 3-D, go to one that is. It is a couple of dollars more, but worth every cent.