“Chicken Little” and “The Sword in the Stone” are perfect examples of movies that are bumps in the road for an animation studio whose main releases, that is not including direct to DVD sequels, are usually at least pretty good and sometimes great. “Chicken Little” is perhaps more relevant in this scenario as it was Disney’s previous production to “Meet the Robinsons” and was their first foray into feature length CGI animation since “Dinosaur”. Needless to say I wasn’t too excited for “Meet the Robinsons” and whilst it isn’t groundbreaking, it’s of genuine quality even if it is a little shallow.
Daniel Hansen provides the voice of Lewis, a young boy who has been raised in an orphanage and has a passion for inventing. In an effort to find out who his mother is he creates a “memory scanner” that will literally be able to pull memories from his head and onto a TV screen. At the science fair in which he is preparing to show his invention, a kid from the future called Wilbur (Wesley Singerman) informs him of the “Bowler Hat Guy” who arrives to sabotage the experiment with his hat, Doris. The rest of the movie is spent unravelling why Wilbur wants Lewis to finish his experiment so badly and what exactly will happen if Wilbur’s family finds out about Lewis. Of course, Wilbur’s family is from the future.
It didn’t help my already deadened enthusiasm that the first third of this movie is incredibly generic. Immediately the stiff animation is noticeable, making the characters look more like marionettes than people. Also present are the clichés which don’t make any real attempt at concealing themselves. For example the film starts with Lewis’ mother leaving him on the steps of an orphanage in a basket. The intro sequence also has a growing up montage to pass a couple of minutes that could have been spent putting some actual effort into the characters instead of glossing over them. Even when there isn’t a contrived montage the dialogue feels like it was written for a school play. I’ll say again, this is the first third of the movie, when the meat of the film starts it gets far better and instead of miss and miss humour we get genuine wit and much improved… everything really.
When Wilbur and Lewis eventually use the time machine to go into the future, it certainly isn’t a dystopian one. Beside the revamped and colourful city filled with insta-build buildings and bubble arenas (that’s the best way to describe them I feel) there are rolling green fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Perhaps Disney’s optimism should be commended though I much prefer my glasses without a single solitary drop of liquid, water or otherwise. Half empty just isn’t cynical enough for me. As I’ve said it is at this point that we are introduced to the extensive Robinson family that includes an obese man who has anxiety attacks when he sees toast that hasn’t been swiftly covered in peanut butter in order to make it fit for human consumption, and a squid butler called “lefty” to name a couple. It never feels crowded though as “Meet the Robinsons” doesn’t waste time trying to extensively flesh out each of them, they serve to give the entire family an aura of equality in diversity, and flourish as a whole rather than individuals. They are also, at times, hilarious.
Bowler Hat Guy is the primary antagonist though to call him inept is an understatement. This guy provides the funniest scenes in the entire movie. He can only function with the help of his bowler hat Doris and even then he is repeatedly ridiculed by brainwashed minions for not thinking his plan through. At first he seems like a cheap mix between Dick Dastardly and Captain Hook but his style is completely different to that of those two moustached characters. He is far more pathetic and far less evil and it’s really great. Not to say he isn’t the only thing that can provide good comic relief. For example one scene takes a food fight and turns it into a homage to dubbed martial arts movies, complete with horrendously dubbed dialogue. That also ties into the amusing one liners that just show that Disney have damn good humour.
“Meet The Robinsons” is by no means Disney’s finest work, but its definitely refreshing to see such an easy to watch film that you can just sit back and laugh it, even if it is flawed and has little in the way of depth in storytelling and characters.