Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The time machine is red and shiny, and I want one.

"Meet the Robinsons" was a pleasant surprise. I had expected a cheap knock-off of "The Incredibles," but instead I found a children’s movie that, while not particularly intellectual, was funny and heartwarming without resorting to cheap gags. I have the feeling that if Disney had gone it alone on this one, it would have been a disaster. Luckily, they had the good sense to bring in Pixar’s John Lasseter as a producer, and it shows. According to IMDb, Walt Disney Animation Studios redid more than 50 percent of the movie after showing it to Lasseter. The result was "Meet the Robinsons," a charming animated features that succeeds in being childlike without being childish.

Based on the book "A Day With Wilbur Robinson" by William Joyce, the movie revolves around Lewis, a 12-year-old orphan (they always are in these stories, but hey, if it ain’t broke!) who loves to invent things. Unfortunately, this personality quirk has consistently turned away couples looking to adopt him. Lewis’ hopes are pinned on his latest invention, but sabotage from a strange figure in the shadows dashes his hopes until Wilbur Robinson, 13-year-old who claims he’s from the future, steps in to help straighten things out. The movie gets progressively – and delightfully – weirder from there.

I’ll admit that the plot didn’t exactly keep me perched on the edge of my seat; I figured out most of the twist a good twenty minutes before the reveal. On the other hand, half the friends I saw the movie with did not, so your mileage may vary. Children should enjoy it just fine, although those younger than, say, 6 or 7 may find some of the later action a little too dark for comfort.

One mark in the movie’s favor is that although the adults come in every available shade of wacky, they are all (with the exception of the villain) helpful, intelligent and generally good. The children are not portrayed as being smarter or more mature than their authority figures, and positive parental role models are firmly in place. Even the villain’s self-inflicted decline is exposed in a flashback, proving that it is still possible to present the moral of a story without ham-handing it. (The primary moral gets laid on a bit thick, but it’s a forgivable offense.)

For the adults in the audience, the plot, while simple, is intelligent enough to keep them sane, and the writing and voice-acting are to be commended. The visual design of the piece is excellent and gives off a "future according to 1950" vibe, and the action flows smoothly from one scene to the next with no dead areas. Also, there are no sexual references, minimal pop-culture references and no swearing. In other words, it’s a children’s movie that’s actually suitable for children (as opposed to the Shrek movies, for instance). Some of the humor will go right over most kid’s heads, but only because it makes references to things like old kung fu movies, not because of any inappropriate material.

"Meet the Robinsons" is a good way for parents to spend an afternoon at the movie theatre with their kids without dying of boredom. Give it a try if you get the chance.

"Meet the Robinsons" – viewed and reviewed May 1, 2007

Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios

Directed by Stephen J. Anderson

Rated G

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