Disney Animated Features
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Release Date: 30 March 2007
I'm not quite sure what to make of this trend, or even if it is a legitimate trend, but five of the last seven Disney Animated Features have incorporated significant science fiction elements. Lilo & Stitch inserted aliens into the idyllic paradise of Kauai, Atlantis: The Lost Empire included Jules Verne-esque technology, Treasure Planet was set in the 24th century with spacefaring sailing ships, and Chicken Little's falling sky was actually a piece of an alien starship.
And now we have Meet the Robinsons. Based on the book A Day With Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce (who previously did concept work for Toy Story and A Bug's Life), Robinsons focuses on bespectacled 12-year-old genius Lewis, an orphan whose eccentric personality has resulted in over 100 failed adoption interviews. His latest invention is a memory viewer, designed to access his infant memories of the day his mother left him at the orphanage.
On the day of the science fair, when he's to present his newest invention, a fast-talking teen named Wilbur shows up, claiming to be from the future and warning Lewis about an evil man wearing a bowler hat. When the hat (yes) sabotages the memory-viewer, Lewis' confidence crashes, but Wilbur is inexplicably desperate to get Lewis to repair it.
Faced with no other recourse, Wilbur takes Lewis to his time, 30 years in the future, where Lewis discovers that the future is bright and full of potential. He also meets Wilbur's family, an absurdly eccentric crew called the Robinsons, and starts to feel at home for the first time in his life. But there's something Wilbur hasn't told him... something that threatens the very existence of the Robinson family and the idyll in which they live.
Most of the main cast is made of up relative unknowns, but there are a few big names. Angela Bassett is Mildred, the kind and caring orphanage director. Laurie Metcalf (Andy's mom in the Toy Story films) is a hyperactive (thanks to her caffeine patches) scientist from the local invention company. Nicole Sullivan (famous from MadTV, previously the voice of Mira Nova in the Buzz Lightyear cartoon) is Wilbur's mom Frannie. Adam West (TV's Batman and the voice of "Ace" in Chicken Little) plays another Robinson family member. Tom Selleck has a brief cameo. Matthew Josten, who voiced the Alien Kid in Chicken Little, stars here as Lewis's resentful orphanage roommate "Goob".
Meet the Robinsons is presented at select theaters in Disney Digital 3D, and the use is not entirely gratuitous. Unlike Chicken Little, this film benefits from the computer animation, which also made it relatively easy to produce a 3D version, and the results are indeed excellent.
The 1953 Donald Duck/Chip 'n Dale short "Working For Peanuts" is presented before the main feature in 3D. A title card before the short explains that the short was originally produced in 3D but presented here in that form for the first time. The use of 3D here is entirely gratuitous, but I'm always up for Donald and the chipmunks.
A good, but not spectacular, film, Robinsons continues the recent Disney trend of wacky characters and whiz-bang action. It's certainly a departure from the material from the 1990s, but the success of the strategy is in question. It's worth noting that this film, and the next one, was in production before John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer at Disney; the current feeling among fans is that Lasseter will redirect Disney's animation department back toward traditional animation techniques and more traditional storylines.
The film does try to tie itself into the Disney tradition in at least one way, though. After the final scene, it is revealed that the film's motto, "Keep moving forward," was from a quotation by Walt Disney himself. While Disney was indeed a forward-looking individual, fascinated by the potential of the future, the film forgets that he was also a man cognizant of the past, and knew we had to look back sometimes to remember where we came from. The film, on the other hand, actively takes the stance that where we (Lewis) came from is virtually irrelevant.
Still, the basic point is well taken, and it's always good to see a connection to Walt's beliefs and passions. Despite its spectacle and wackiness, I think Meet the Robinsons does signal good things about the future of the Disney Animated Features.
Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.