Make Sure You’ve Read: Munir’s Disney Retrospective - The Revival Era (2007 - present) Introduction.
I'm very fond of Meet the Robinsons. It's not a perfect film but it did something remarkable for the studio and for me: it gave us both hope. Hope that a better studio was coming and hope that their future output would return it to its former glory.
I clearly remember I didn't want to see Robinsons in theatres. After the disasters that Home on the Range and Chicken Little were, I was done with Disney Animation. I was completely devoted to Pixar and eagerly awaiting Ratatouille. Robinsons? Not so much. I saw the trailers and I wasn't particularly impressed and, based on the studio's previous misfires I didn't have any reason to believe this one was going to be good. Sure, I knew that John Lasseter was helming Disney Animation now, but I didn't think too much of it. All I cared about was Pixar. Then, my little brother begged me to take him to see Robinsons and, after some time spent refusing, I begrudgingly agreed. We got into the theatre and I braced myself to endure an hour and a half of crap. The castle logo appeared and then... Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie was there and the words "Walt Disney Animation Studios" appeared. 'That's new,' I thought, and that was the first of many unexpected, and very pleasant, surprises the film had in store for me. From the very beginning I found myself enjoying the picture, rooting for the characters and having a great time, something I hadn't had with a Disney Animated film for a very long time. I went out of the theatre smiling and thinking that there was still hope for the studio.
I think that many people that went to see Robinsons felt the same way when they saw it. I think that was what Lasseter wanted the audience to think. That the studio we all knew and loved was coming back. And he shepherded a great film to deliver that message.
I won't go into a detailed synopsis as I assume most of you have already seen this film. The movie tells the story of Lewis, an orphan boy who's an inventor, with the sole wish of getting adopted. When that doesn't happen, his frustration leads him to a serious of events where he ends up in the future, and the space-time continuum rest in his hands. Like many time travel films, Robinsons has some convoluted storytelling that sometimes leaves you scratching your head, but, overall, the story is a coherent one where the ending and the beginning meet in a nice way. After lots of poorly constructed characters, we finally had one that we could root for, one who feels real for the audience. Lewis is a character that you can relate to; you can feel his pain, anger, enthusiasm and frustration. Wilbur is a great supporting character, who provides some comic relief but also helps our hero discover who he is. And The Bowler Hat Guy is a goofy villain that reminds me of Captain Hook, but who in the end has a surprisingly sad twist. Chances are you won't remember the rest of the Robinson family, but, as a whole, they're endearing and funny and are really a group of people you wouldn't mind being related to. I mean, who else celebrates your failures? That's pretty awesome if you ask me.
The animation isn't Pixar-level stellar, but, compared to Chicken Little, it's like the difference between day and night. The main problem is in the characters design, which feels a little dated (just compare Lewis to Rapunzel and you can see the difference) - but in terms of backgrounds, the movie has some of the most inspiring sets I've seen. One of the most superb sequences in the movie is the first time Lewis and Wilbur go to the future. That sequence is amazing, and you can see the animators' inventiveness at work. The future world looks amazing and to this day still causes tingles down my spine every time I see it.
If you only know Danny Elfman for his spooky scores for Tim Burton films, then you'll be surprised at how sweet and soft the music is in this film. The score is very nice and has the right touches in the right moments, helping to elevate the story even more.
As I mentioned above, the story is a little convoluted and messy at times, and if you think too much, many moments don't make sense. But, I commend the film for not going the easy route and telling an easy story designed just for toddlers (something we saw a lot in its predecessors), and instead actually trying to engage all the audience and make them actually think, rather than giving them everything on a plate. It may have not entirely succeed but at least it tried, and the twists and turns the film has in its second and third act feel fresh and exciting (even if I think the third act feels a little rushed - but that's just a minor complaint).
Meet the Robinsons started as a troubled production that could easily have gone the Chicken Little route. Then, John Lasseter stepped in and helped director Stephen Anderson to reshape the film into something much more original, fresh and fun. Something that every member of the family, and not just the little ones, could enjoy. Meet the Robinsons may not be a masterpiece, but it signalled a new direction at Walt Disney Animation Studios. From the new logo to the epilogue where they link the film to Walt Disney, Meet the Robinsons was the dawn after many bleak nights at the studio. A studio that embraced the film's motto and also told us, the audience, to do the same thing and trust them again: Keep Moving Forward. Rating: 4/5.
Next Week - Animated Classic #48 Review: Bolt (2008).