‘Bake them cookies, Lucille!’ – Grandpa Bud.
Close your eyes, and think of Disney. What comes to mind? Maybe Mickey Mouse, possibly princesses and castles, or maybe Uncle Walt! What you probably don’t think of are space ships, dinosaurs and singing frogs. Another of Disney’s less-mentioned movies comes in the form of Meet the Robinsons, which popped up in 2007 after 4 years in production.
Twelve-year-old science-crazy Lewis lives in an orphanage, and is fed up with nobody wanting to adopt him. He gets the idea into his head that his mother (who we saw leave him as a baby at the start of the film) will want him back now that he is older, so he sets about making a brain-scanner, so that he can try to remember what she looks like. This is much to the dismay of his long-suffering room-mate, Goob, who, with no sleep due to Lewis’ ‘inventing’ through the night, loses his important baseball game. Remember that part, it is important later! Lewis takes his invention to the school science fair where he meets Wilbur Robinson, who claims that he is from the future. He is looking for a time machine that a man in a bowler hat has stolen. Sadly, Lewis’ memory scanner falls apart and causes chaos; enough chaos for Bowler Hat Guy and his robotic bowler hat Doris to steal the scanner unnoticed.
Wilbur then finds Lewis on the roof of the orphanage, and tries to persuade him to fix the memory scanner. Lewis says he will only fix the scanner if Wilbur can prove that he is from the future. So, Wilbur throws Lewis into his own time machine/spaceship and whisks him off to 2037. This year is also used in the film The Time Machine, as the year that the world would end. When Lewis realises that Wilbur really does have a time machine, he refuses to fix the memory scanner, saying that the time machine can take him straight to his mother. They end up arguing and crash the spaceship, and Wilbur asks Lewis to fix it. Lewis agrees, but only if Wilbur takes him to see his mother after it is fixed. Lewis is hidden in the garage, so as Wilbur’s family do not see him. However, he isn’t there long, before he ends up outside and meets the rest of the Robinson clan. He comes across Grandpa Bud, who is looking for his teeth and has his clothes on backwards, Uncle Joe who works out, Uncle Art the ‘super hero’ who delivers pizzas (voiced by Adam West…yes, thatAdam West), Aunt Billie and Gaston. We also briefly meet Lucille, who is in a room that appears to be a disco, and is ‘baking cookies’. Then Lewis is back outside again, still with Grandpa, where he meets the dog, who is wearing glasses. One of the wonderful one-liners in this movie:Lewis: ‘Why is your dog wearing glasses?’
Grandpa: ‘Because his insurance won’t pay for contacts.’
Next Lewis meets Uncles Spike and Dimitri, and a large purple octopus called Lefty. Then we meet the mother of the family, Franny, who is conducting an orchestra of frogs; the singing voice of Frankie the frog is voiced by Jamie Cullum. Lewis does not meet Wilbur’s Dad, but Wilbur tells him that he looks like Tom Selleck (cue photo of Tom Selleck). The introduction to this massive and wacky family is probably one of the best sequences in the whole movie.
Are you starting to see what I mean when I said that this is not the traditional Disney film?
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story, but it does get weirder!
The story is based on the book by William Joyce called ‘A Day with Wilbur Robinson’. Some of the characters are based upon real relatives that Joyce had, such as his grandpa who had so many artificial bits and pieces such as false teeth and a glass eye (Grandpa Bud), or his uncle who was 7ft tall and claimed that he was from outer space (Uncle Art).
There seems to be more characters in this movie than you would expect there to be in your average film, however, most of them do not play a big part at all, and are there simply to aid some of the many fabulous one-liners that make this film unique. The whole Robinson family represent freedom, and they do whatever makes them happy; they even celebrate failure, as it means that you will learn from your mistake and move forward! The main characters such as Lewis and Wilbur are easy to identify with, especially for young children. Design-wise, the characters are rather similar to the ones that are found in the original book.
The version of the future that we see here is rather similar in many ways to what you would see in Tomorrowland in a Disney theme park. In fact, you see Lewis and Wilbur fly past ‘Todayland’ in their spaceship, with almost an exact replica of Space Mountain in the background, and the original Rocket Jets.
As far as music goes, this isn’t one of Disney’s more musical efforts, but the story doesn’t really call for that anyway. The wonderful Danny Elfman wrote the score, with artists such as Rufus Wainwright, The All-American Rejects and Jamie Cullum contributing to the soundtrack. On the whole, the music is upbeat and futuristic in a very Disney-esque and charming way, although whenever Lewis’ family is mentioned or we are meant to feel his sense of loneliness, the music does take on much more of an emotional feel.
There is a theme running through this film which comes from the saying ‘keep moving forward’. Anyone familiar with Walt Disney will recognise this from one of his famous quotes, which is actually tagged onto to the end of the movie. A nice touch! In fact, the whole film does share the same values that Walt had about the future and moving forward. Lewis is actually very similar to Walt, wanting to make the world a better place through technology. There are a few nods to Walt and the Disney theme parks throughout this film, as the director is also quite a fan of Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Meet the Robinsons was released in 2007, two years after Chicken Little, which, if you have read my review on that, you will know I’m not a fan of. That is an understatement. Most folks tend to think of Pixar when they see a CGI Disney film, though neither of these films had Pixar involved. This film is actually the first film to be released under the new Walt Disney Animation Studios label, after the Disney/Pixar agreement expired. In the case of Chicken Little, I actually wish that Pixar had been on hand to…well…to scrap that movie and make a better one. Where Meet the Robinsons is concerned, Disney did an amazing job all on their own. Meet the Robinsons was the fourth highest grossing film that year, behind Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, and The Simpsons Movie. (it is streets ahead of Shrek the Third).
This is definitely an odd film. In this case though, odd is good. If you are a fan of the values of Walt Disney, a fan of the theme parks, or a fan of sci-fi in general, this is the Disney film for you! It is definitely one of the less talked about Disney movies, and it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. I would say that teenagers and young adults would probably be the target audience for Meet the Robinsons, as its random and bizarre characters and comical scriptwriting are fantastic, and a lot of the jokes will probably be lost on a very young audience.
I am reviewing from the DVD edition of the film, which isn’t exactly loaded with special features, but there is the expected ‘Backstage Disney’ section which is the best bit. It includes interviews with the director, some of the voice artists, William Joyce, Danny Elfman and some of the other artists that are included on the soundtrack. There is an audio commentary which is always fun to listen to, as well as deleted scenes, music videos (sigh) and a game. This is probably worth picking up on Blu-Ray if you have the option to do so!
I give this movie 4 Tinks.