Almost every American animated film released this decade has had, what I call for lack of better terms, a contrived modernness or pseudo-hipness to it. Unlike past films where you could watch them years later and they feel just the same, films today seem to be made for the audience here and now with no regard to future generations who might watch. References to current celebrities, stores, styles, songs, slang, and the like are the norm. Watching films like this you may get entertained, but there is no sense that you are watching something classic, historic, or something that will last the test of time. Just think back to when you saw Beauty And The Beast or Toy Story in the theatre. Where are those types of films?

Did we really need to meet all the Robinsons?

Meet The Robinsons is full of contrasts. The first half of the movie is a mess while the second is wonderful. Parts of the film are full of that annoying contemporary style that animated films favor these days, while other parts remind you how great old school classic animation storytelling can be. The film uses that lazy but now obligatory technique of using pop songs over moments that are supposed to pull at our emotions, but when the Danny Elfman’s songs and score do the same thing it just works. The film is a mix of the old and the new, and I am not talking about its time travel storyline. It is almost like two groups created the film and then mushed the separate parts together.

Lewis is a brilliant 12 year old orphan who is always inventing things. He really gets into his inventions and is more than willing to show them off to prospective parents looking to adopt. Unfortunately, his inventions don’t usually work. Most parents seem to want a less “enthusiastic” child, so Lewis is passed over again and again. He believes once he is a teenager he will be unadoptable so he builds a machine to help him find his birth mother and decides to enter it in the school science fair. At the fair a mysterious man in a bowler hat sabotages and then steals the device. Lewis, failing again, decides to give up inventing once and for all. But a strange kid, named Wilber Robinson, claiming to be from the future appears and encourages him to fix the device. When Lewis is skeptical, Wilbur whisks him off to the year 2037 where Lewis, well, meets the Robinsons – an odd family to say the very least.

That is as much of the plot as I want to mention as there are secrets that if revealed would ruin the movie. Unfortunately it is these secrets that cause the first big problem with this film. In their zeal to keep the audience from figuring things out too easily the filmmakers have completely left us in the dark as to what is going on for the first half of the movie. It all seems just like random events occurring for absolutely no rhyme or reason except for the fun of it. While this is all entertaining it leaves you wondering for a good portion of the film about whether it is all leading anywhere, or if there is just going to be no plot at all. Fortunately, once they connect the dots the film becomes better by many magnitudes!

Another problem with the film is the cast of characters. There are really only 4 or 5 major characters in the film, but we get introduced to 15 other characters who we never really get to meet – despite the title of the film! Maybe cutting back on the sheer number of family members and then focusing on them more would have made us care a little more about them rather than just seeing them as we run past them and then being expecting to remember their eccentricities.

OK, so the film has a lot of that maddening modernness to it, the plot is muddled for half the film, and we never really get to meet the Robinsons. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Bowler Hat Guy steals Lewis’ invention – and the show.

This film was fun. You are going to see some good animation. You are going to hear some good music. Other than one exception, you are not going to be overwhelmed with celebrity voices that distract from the characters on the screen. The voice acting in the film was top notch. And you are going to meet the next great Disney villain – the best from any Disney film since Jafar!

And most importantly, Meet The Robinsons shows flashes of that classic greatness that gives hope that Disney is once again moving in the right direction. With some tweaking this film could’ve been on par with Aladdin, for example. There is a lot of heart and real emotion in the movie. You don’t like the main characters because they are supposed to be cool. You don’t like the main characters because the writers have used every cliche and manipulation in the book. We care about them because we are genuinely touched by their story.

Meet The Robinsons begins and ends with perhaps more proof that Disney is looking to get back in touch with their roots. After the Walt Disney Pictures production logo is a new logo for the newly renamed Walt Disney Animation Studios (formally Walt Disney Feature Animation) which features a classic Mickey Mouse animation from his debut in Steamboat Willie. The film ends with a quote from Walt Disney himself who apparently inspired a major part of the plot. Hopefully Meet The Robinsons is the first step in the journey that will bring the magic back to Disney animated films.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Meet The Robinsons
Walt Disney Pictures
March 30, 2007
102 minutes
Rated G
directed by Stephen J. Anderson