Ranking the Disney Canon – 42: Meet the Robinsons

” Spike and Dimitri are twins, and I don’t know who they’re related to.” – Lewis

“Neither do we. Go on.” – Wilbur

Meet The Robinsons, a 2007 release, was the first film to be finished after Disney had bought out Pixar, and the influence could certainly be felt. After John Lasseter, the new chief of Disney Animation, was screened an early version of the film. Afterwards, he suggested some changes. By the film’s release, over 60% of the finished material had been reshot, and new characters and entire sequences were added. This film is not only truly a mix of the two different ideals, but also different eras.

Meet the Robinsons is about a young, brilliant orphan named Lewis, who, after years of not being adopted, believed that his original mother would be the only one to accept him. He decides to create a memory scanner so that he may be able to remember what his mother looked like, all the while keeping his roommate, Goob, up all night, and ignoring all potential families. He enters it in his school’s science fair, but everything falls apart when Wilbur Robinson, a teenager and a self proclaimed “Time Cop,” alerts him that a man from the future who wears a Bowler Hat is off to sabotage the machine. Indeed, The Bowler Hat Guy messes with the machine and ruins Lewis’s presentation. In order to prove that he is from the future, and that he needs to finish the machine, Wilbur takes a dejected and frustrated Lewis to the future. He accidentally crashes the Time Machine, and attempts to encourage Lewis into fixing it so he can return home. Lewis soon meets Wilbur’s crazy family, while The Bowler Hat Guy attempts to capture Lewis, all while hiding a surprising secret.

STRENGTHS

Lewis is the film’s best character, which is fantastic since he is the protagonist. His desire and goals, wants and needs are very clearly defined, and are so simple in their core that the audience is sure to care for the character. His arc makes sense and is well thought out, and in the end, we are happy to see the character succeed.

The movie actually has a couple of good twists, and they are credibly built up and believable. The villain’s identity in particular is a really fun twist. It’s an excellent use of plant and payoff that the audience will write off a first as unimportant. The reveal scene is wholesome entertainment, and is able to play off some real laughs.

Speaking of the villain, what’s most effective about him is the contrast between incompetence and competence. Having the Bowler Hat being the brains of the operation is a brilliant move, and the way the Bowler Hat is written in contrast to Bowler Hat Guy helps not only to make some fun back and forth scenes, but allows the villain to make sense as to how he would get this far, which gives the story a whole lot of credibility. And the turn of the Bowler Hat is brilliantly done. There’s also a nice contrast between the good future and the bad future, and the simple use of bright colors vs. dark colors alone gives an uneasy feeling that makes you want the hero to succeed.

The ending is truly chill inducing. Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders” (which for the longest time I did not know was written for the movie) is perfect for those final few moments, and it’s a fantastic conclusion to Lewis’s story. The moment between Lewis and his future self in particular is a very awesome scene. And having a Walt Disney Quote before the credits roll? Tears in my eyes.

Finally, though I am about to harp on the family, The Robinsons have a lot of funny concepts and characters within their large family. In fact, the film’s best sequence is when Wilbur, and the audience, are introduced to the entire family.  A lot of fun and crazy characters exist in this world. I just wish they were there more. Also, Adam West absolutely nails his role again. The man has a voice of gold.

WEAKNESSES

We are getting to the point where character relationships are going to become a consistent strength rather than a weakness. We still have a few more films to go before that happens, however, and unfortunately Meet the Robinsons falls into the “Almost had it” category.

While the Robinson Family is full of odd, funny, and unique characters, it never feels like they are there for a reason. They feel like they are there more for the sake of being odd and silly than to contribute anything to Lewis’s story. And what is most disappointing about this is the fact that these characters had huge potential to be influences in Lewis’s motivations. It would have been great to see Lewis fall in love with his future wife. It would have been chilling to see Lewis connect with his future father. These scenes would have been great in giving both Lewis and the audience a reason to care about the future. But these scenes don’t come. Instead, the family is just there, being odd, and while it is fun, it isn’t completely satisfying.

Even the film’s best relationship, that between Wilbur and Lewis, could use a bit more building. I know that Lewis’s frustration with his own abilities is a key part to his character and arc ,but I feel it overtakes the plot, and it distracts from the need for a connection. Lewis and Wilbur never feel like friends. Keeping Lewis at odds with Wilbur for much of their time together doesn’t allow the connection to grow, and thus doesn’t make it seem that Lewis cares for Wilbur. More friendship would also make Lewis’s feel of betrayal a lot more hurtful and believable for the character.

I think that the film would have greatly benefited from being 100% redone, just like Bolt would be for 2008. Obviously, this isn’t really possible, as Meet the Robinsons was much farther along than Bolt was, but I think that the film would be much better if it had a clean start with a single, clear vision behind it. From what I know, the finished version is much better than the original cut, but I still think there is a hold over of characters and ideas from the previous incarnation that don’t fit within this film. Also, 10 months of retooling doesn’t allow for characters to be given a lot of build, or ideas to be expanded and made better.

Finally, time for some nitpicking! Time Travel is always a tricky subject to handle, and one always has to be careful to avoid paradoxes and fallacies, as well as the whole “Can the Future Actually Be Changed?” debate. In my opinion, Meet the Robinsons goes down the wrong path. The film makes more sense if all the events that happened to Lewis were supposed to happen, that he was supposed to go to the future, meet his future family, and then save the future. I do not see the uninterfered science fair producing the same future as the interfered science fair, especially considering that uninterfered, Lewis would have succeeded in seeing the memory of his mother. However, the film presents itself as if Lewis’s future self have no memory of time traveling, which suggests the future can be altered. Future Lewis even says so himself. I’m not convinced. The film would have made more sense and had been better off if Future Lewis had given a nod to the fact that this was all in fact part of the plan.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

I mentioned the best moment above, but I’ll type it again. The sequence introducing us to the entire crazy family is a great introductory sequence, which only furthers the disappointment of the squandered potential.

The film’s best song is Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders.” It just fits the ending very well, and creates great emotion when paired with the images.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Meet the Robinsons certainly has a lot of great moments. The plot is interesting, the protagonist and villain really shine through, and it has a great progression. The rest of its characters, though interesting, don’t reach the potential or feel important, it ultimately it weakens what Meet the Robinsons could be.

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2 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 42: Meet the Robinsons

  1. At first I didn’t have much expectations from a film such as this, but as soon as I got a chance to actually see the film for myself I had to admit that the film does present itself with some fairly decent moments. An interesting plot followed with great progression, a protagonist that comes across as rather interesting and it’s villain, though simple as far as concept goes, at some moments actually steals the spotlight for most of the film (If you pardon the expression of course). But honestly, because there are just so many characters featured in the film, without a doubt interesting beyond any doubt, a near hour and a half just isn’t enough for the cast to live to their full potential and honestly most of them don’t really serve a purpose except to illustrate that they are the “Robinsons” and… That’s it. Even for a film that was one of the few that just started using Digital Animation, it had just as much potential as it’s competition at the time, and not to mention it had a great moral that many fans will follow. Though for the film’s sake, it’s better to just keep moving forward knowing that following this film there will be others that would turn out to be fairly decent features within the fabric of time.

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