51 Days of Disney (Day 47): Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons was the first Disney film to be supervised in any sort by John Lasseter after he was named Chief Creative Officer, and it really shows.

The film opens with a sepia-toned flashback where our hero, Lewis, is left at the 6th Street Orphanage. We flash-forward 13 years where Lewis has grown to be a brilliant child inventor, but has not been adopted yet. He feels like his mother is the only one who will ever love him after so many rejections from various potential adoptive parents, so he sets out to build a machine to help him remember who she is so he can find her, much to the dismay of his roommate at the orphanage, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian. Lewis keeps Goob awake to a point where Goob ends up falling asleep during his big little league game.

Lewis takes his brain scanning machine to the school science fair, where he meets Wilbur Robinson. Wilbur tells him that he’s part of the Time Continuum Task Force and asks him if he has seen a tall man in a bowler hat, who stole a time machine and is after Lewis. It turns out that the Bowler Hat Guy is real, and is a rival inventor who sabotaged Lewis’ brain scanner and caused it to ruin the whole science fair. Bowler Hat Guy fixes and steals Lewis’ machine to sell it to the highest bidder. Lewis, who knows nothing of this, runs back to the orphanage in a depressed state, but Wilbur manages to snap him out of it. It turns out that Wilbur isn’t a time cop, but he is from the future and takes Lewis there to prove that he’s not lying and to meet his interesting family including his frog band conducting mother, Franny (Nicole Sullivan, Shego from Kim Possible), his pizza delivery superhero uncle, Art (Adam West), and his other various cousins, aunts, and uncles.

Wilbur’s family wants to adopt him, but I can’t say any more before getting into some serious spoiler territory.

The film’s major message is to not let the past hold you down and to keep moving forward. They really send this message home in a meaningful way within the story and the whole movie should make you look back at all of the bad things that have happened in your life as not something to define who you are, but as things that have made you a stronger person. This message is really pounded in with the quote at the end of the film:

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

If I didn’t already love the film before seeing that quote, that would have gotten Meet the Robinsons some serious brownie points.

The film has some great writing and is genuinely funny, unlike the previous two entries into the canon. There are references to Tomorrowland, or Todayland as it is referred to in the film. There are some rapid fire sequences of silly puns, a scene that devolves into a parody of the dubs of anime from the 60’s (complete with grainy picture), and an explanation of a family tree in which Wilbur describes his dad as looking like Tom Sellick (the portrait of him changes into a portrait of Tom Sellick) and we later find out that his dad is actually played by Tom Sellick. It’s not as funny as Emperor’s New Groove, but there are some real laugh-out-loud sections in the film. While the writing is a major improvement over the past two Disney films, the story still needs a bit of work. The story is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fairly predictable. The first time I saw Meet the Robinsons, I correctly guessed all of the twists in the film. It’s not a bad thing, I just wish that the set up wasn’t quite as liberal with dropping hints.

When John Lasseter became the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation, numerous changes occurred. The first and most major was a name change for the studio. Walt Disney Feature Animation became the Walt Disney Animation Studios once again and the Studio moved away from using the outdated CAPS after Home on the Range to newer software called Harmony that would be used for the first new hand drawn animated film done by the renewed Studio. When Lasseter came on, he looked at the projects being released and deemed that they were not up to the standard that the studio was once known for and demanded that they be reworked in order to even be released. Around 60% of Meet the Robinsons was either completely scrapped, reworked, or replaced with brand new content. To tell you the truth, I do not want to ever see this 60% in any form after having watched Chicken Little. Even the animation and rendering has greatly improved, but that is to be expected considering that one of the founders of Pixar is now the Executive Producer of your film.

The music was done by Danny Elfman, and surprisingly enough, it didn’t sound like a traditional Danny Elfman score. I love his music to death, but he kind of fell into the same slump that Tim Burton did, so it’s refreshing to hear something new out of him. The score to Meet the Robinsons is simultaneously futuristic sounding and jazzy, which makes for a very new take on the future. It honestly reminds me greatly of the Sherman Brothers’ score to the Carousel of Progress, but that connection might be because of something else in the film. On the Meet the Robinsons soundtrack, there is a bonus track that is They Might Be Giants (who just so happen to be one of my favourite bands) covering “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress attraction and that song should have been in the credits instead of that lame Jonas Brothers song.

Meet the Robinsons is a fantastic change of pace from the early to mid 2000’s slump that Disney went through and is definitely a hint of the great things to come from the Walt Disney Animation Studios in the future.


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