Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: March 30, 2007
Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy
When it seemed as though the Disney-Pixar partnership might dissipate in the mid-2000s, The House of Mouse responded by creating its own CGI animation department. “Chicken Little” was its first creation, and it proved enough of a success to spawn more computer-created movies. While Pixar remained under the company banner in the end, Disney continued to put out its own CGI movies. The third entry in the collection is “Meet the Robinsons,” a science-fiction tale full of crazy inventions and time travel.
The story centers around a young inventor named Lewis, living in an orphanage but trying to make the best of his position. His inventions often go wrong, scaring off potential parents and annoying his long-suffering roommate Goob. His life takes a turn when he meets a boy named Wilbur Robinson, a time traveler sent into the past to recover a stolen time machine. When everything goes wrong at the school’s science fair, the thief appears and steals Lewis’s memory scanner for his own ends.
Wilbur takes Lewis into the future in pursuit of his bowler-hat-wearing foe, only to crash the time machine and leave them both stranded. Wilbur hides Lewis at home, where the young inventor begins to suspect there’s a lot more at play here than he originally imagined. The revelation kicks off a chase through time as Lewis and Wilbur attempt to stop their mutual foe from rewriting history entirely. Lewis must confront an enemy whose identity hits far too close to home, and he realizes that this entire conflict may just be his own fault.
“Meet the Robinsons” resists the trend of casting big names in voice-acting roles, turning instead to experienced voice artists who do great jobs capturing their characters. Jordan Fry voices Lewis, Wesley Singerman voices Wilbur and Steve Anderson voices the Bowler Hat Guy. A few familiar names pop up in the supporting cast, with Adam West, Tom Selleck, Laurie Metcalf and Angela Bassett providing character voices.
Fans of the “Back to the Future” series will feel at home here, because the time-travel mechanics feel extremely similar to those in the Robert Zemeckis trilogy. The plot becomes convoluted when it gets going, generating more than a few twists and turns along the way as secrets are revealed. Younger viewers may have some difficulty keeping everything straight, but Disney’s storytellers do a good job explaining the ins and outs of the tale and keeping everyone on the same page.
Disney’s character design sees many of the characters coming across as a bit flat and unimaginative. However, Bowler Hat Guy proves to be an inspired Disney villain, as he’s comical and nefarious in equal measure. Throughout the early part of the film, he’s a mystery, but his dim-witted nature and his robot sidekick make him a memorable villain for the piece. The ultimate revelation about his identity and motivation proves to be a game changer for younger viewers, although older audience members might be able to work out the turn ahead of time.
The film’s visual and sound design are very well done, with the future world of “Meet the Robinsons” being less inspired by actual futurism and more by what futurism was considered in the 1950s. Everything resembles something out of “The Jetsons” more than anything else, creating a weird blend of retro-futuristic chic that works perfectly for the time-travel storyline. Danny Elfman handles the score, providing a great backing soundtrack for the madcap action. The songs, on the other hand, are may not have the same staying power as songs from Disney movies past.
Being a Disney film, “Meet the Robinsons” also has a message that isn’t lost on perceptive viewers. Lewis feels consumed by his desire to locate his birth mother and come to terms with his orphan status, but ultimately, he learns that moving forward in life is often more productive than being consumed with the past. Another strong message is that family is what you make it, and even if you find yourself outside of the traditional definition of “family,” you can still find or create your own home.
While “Meet the Robinsons” showcases good action and plenty of gags, it lacks the perfect blend of simple and sophisticated humor that has made the studio so beloved, and its CGI artistry pales in comparison to later offerings such as 2013’s “Frozen.” However, the film is still an enjoyable science-fiction romp and a good attempt to teach a concept as convoluted but ultimately fascinating as time travel to younger audiences.