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Friday, July 20, 2012

Disneyear: Meet the Robinsons (2007)

After a string of disappointing films (barring Lilo & Stitch) and besmirching the Disney name, then CEO Michael Eisner decided to leave the company in 2005. With him and Roy E. Disney now absent, who was going to fill in their shoes to produce Disney's future animated films? Enter John Lassenter, co-founder of Pixar Animation. After the absolute failure of a film known as Chicken Little, Pixar and Disney decided to merge with each other during production of Disney's next film, Meet the Robinsons. When it was finished, it was the very first Disney film to utilize 3D effects. Over 600 REAL D Cinema digital 3D-equipped theaters presented the Disney Digital 3-D version of the film. Now to where I fit in on this. I'll admit, I was a little skeptical about this film when I saw the teaser trailer. After Chicken Little, I had my doubts that this was going to be any better. But one day, I saw it on Starz and thought, "Why not? Let's give it a go". Honestly, I was surprised. While I don't think it's absolutely perfect, it has a general charm and likability to it, something lacking in some of the previous films I dare not mention. So let's keep moving forward in today's review of Meet the Robinsons.

The story centers on a 13-year old genius orphan named Lewis that also happens to be an inventor. He tries to impress potential adopters with his gadgets, but everything he tries seems to backfire on him like Wile E. Coyote. Because of this, he wants to see what his real mother looked like and immediately starts work on a new invention that can scan memories from your mind and present them on a small screen in the hopes of finding his real mother. After months of extensive work, Lewis enters it in the science fair.  Lewis meets Wilbur Robinson, a mysterious boy claiming to be a time cop from the future. Wilbur needs to recover a time machine that a man wearing a bowler hat has stolen. Lewis tries to demonstrate the scanner, but it falls apart, throwing the science fair into chaos. Upset, Lewis leaves while the Bowler Hat Guy, with the help of a robotic bowler hat named Doris, repairs and steals the scanner. Later, Wilbur bumps into Lewis again and orders him to fix the scanner. Lewis agrees if Wilbur can prove he's from the future. Wilbur does by bringing Lewis to the year 2037 in a second time machine, only to crash it later. They take it to Wilbur's garage where Lewis agrees to fix it only if Wilbur uses it after to show him the day his mother left him at the orphanage. Wilbur agrees but tries to hide him in the garage. Lewis doesn't stay for long and winds up meeting all of the Robinson family except for Cornelius, Wilbur's father. Bowler Hat Guy and Doris follow Lewis into the future and try to kidnap him, but the Robinson family saves him. The Robinsons want to adopt Lewis but have a change of heart when they find out that he's from the past. Wilbur also admits lying about his end of the deal and Lewis runs off upset. He bumps into the Bowler Hat Guy who reveals he was his old roommate from the orphanage who Lewis kept up constantly while working on his inventions. His life turned out for the worst while Lewis went on to be a great inventor in the future. Doris was "DOR-15," one of Lewis' failed and abandoned inventions. They both blamed Lewis for their misfortunes and decided to ruin his career by stealing the memory scanner and claiming credit for it. Leaving Lewis behind, they take off with the scanner, drastically altering the future to a world minus Wilbur and dominated by Doris clones. Lewis repairs the second time machine, goes to confront Doris and destroys her by promising to never invent her, restoring the future to its utopian self. Lewis fixes everything to the way it was, or will be, and he goes back to his old time to be adopted by a new family as well as help his roommate. The film ends with this quote:

"Keep Moving Forward"
-Walt Disney

The first thing you'll notice when you watch the film is that the visuals are great, especially on the future world. It's very bright, colorful, and has so many creative designs for buildings and transportation. Everyone apparently either has a flying car or travels by bubbles. I also appreciate that the film has a simple look to it, but nothing too simple. I just thought it looked amazing. There's also this atmosphere to the film. This world looks to be a normal world at first, it's when we meet the family is where it gets... interesting. A lot of comedy comes from the family and it's... random. There's singing frogs, dogs with glasses, and even pet dinosaurs! This gives the film a fresh feeling where anything can happen at any time. And because the Robinsons are so strange, the randomness is wholly acceptable. Sounds odd, but that's just how this world the Disney artists created works and to be fair, it's kind of cool.

The film is also chock full of fun characters too. For starters, Lewis is a very likable kid. I mean sure, he's a typical orphan with typical orphan problems, but I like him for the same reasons I like Mr. Tibbs from 101 Dalmatians. There's just this sense that he would never give up on accomplishing his goals even if he doubts himself and he does take responsibly in his actions because he knows later in the film that his actions can have effects on several other people. Sort of a surreal take on It's a Wonderful Life, but I do like the kid. Wilbur gets a funny line here and there and so do the rest of the Robinsons. The Bowler Hat Guy is a pretty entertaining villain. Not exactly evil, but more of a meddler. Even if the design is ridiculous (he sort of reminds me of Snidely Whiplash from Dudley Do-Right!), the comedy of this character comes from the fact that he's a constant screw-up. It's kind of sad that if has to have his own hat to do the planning since he couldn't come up with something dastardly evil on his own to save his life. Kind of a letdown when you compare him to other Disney baddies but he's still a decent comedic character, which I guess does work in the context of this film.

I suppose if there's one thing wrong with Meet the Robinsons, it's the pacing of the story. From beginning to end, it feels rushed. Like in the beginning when Lewis and Wilbur go to the future world. We only get a few minutes to let the atmosphere soak in, but then we get to meet the Robinson family shortly after. Surely they would allow some time to get to know them, right? ...Wrong. Every detail about this family is thrown at you in only a few minutes time and this family is so huge that we don't really get to know them as people, but as a giant mass. It's just overwhelming to even try and remember all of these people. Even the defeat of the villain is accomplished with one sentence that alters the future: "I will never invent you". Then, poof! Story arch over! I just wanted the film to slow down and allow me to sink everything in for just five minutes.

I can only name two or three of these folks...
Aside from the pacing, I think Meet the Robinsons is okay. Like I said, there is this general likability to this world they created. The storytelling was uneven but has an interesting concept, the characters as a whole are entertaining, it has colorful and pleasant animation (even if it sort of looks like Pixar made it, but knowing the producer, I can see why.), and even funny because of just how random it can be. There is this sense that Disney is trying to improve itself and this film does showcase that. It may not be perfect but compared to the last film they made, Meet the Robinsons is a small step in the right direction. 

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