CAPSULE: A foundling and aspiring young inventor travels by time machine several decades into the future and finds a world that has been transformed by a true genius inventor. Now he has to deal with the inventor's weird family. The pacing of this 3-D animation film is uneven, from slow and sad to madcap, but eventually all is explained and it turns out to be a decent time travel story. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
MEET THE ROBINSONS, an adaptation of A DAY WITH WILBUR ROBINSON by William Joyce, is a frantic animated sci-fi comedy that is mostly aimed at a younger audience. Adults may have to sit through the first of it with some patience, but it does catch on. Science fiction fans will probably find the wait worthwhile. The situation set up in the first half turns into an engaging science fiction story with its share of intricately plotted ideas. It covers some of the same ideas as Peter Hyams's A SOUND OF THUNDER and handles them more intelligently. (Admittedly, Hyams did not set the bar very high.)
The story with something like eight credited writers has some uneven tone early in the film, but it all works out. It begins as the story of Lewis, a foundling in an orphanage who has problems being adopted in spite of (and because of) his propensity to invent strange gadgets. The story takes a sudden and madcap turn when a new friend of his, Wilbur Robinson, claims to be from the future and takes Lewis a half-century forward in time in a time machine "borrowed" from his father.
As Lewis sees it the future is a little crazy, but technology has made magical strides. For example, the family's robot has a long extendable gooseneck, but it does not work quite right, with the head and the body no longer seemimg quite on the same page. Much of the change has been brought about by the great engineer and inventor Cornelius Robinson, a Thomas Edison of the new age. But Cornelius is the patriarch of a crazy family. Wilbur seems to be about the only normal member. Some of Lewis's visit to the Robinson family is strange because so much has changed in the world in general, but a good deal of the weirdness comes from the Robinson family itself, who would have been weird in any age. Lurking ever near at hand is the villain of the piece, the sinister Man in a Bowler Hat who is not so much an evil man wearing a hat as an evil hat wearing a man.
Frequently animated films, and particularly Disney animation, will have several recognizable celebrities voice the characters. It is true with this film but less obvious here. Tom Selleck is the voice of Cornelius, unheard until the final reel. Angela Bassett and Adam West voice minor characters. But for the most part the voices are not the usual stars. Most voices are from young actors who have not yet made a lot of reputation. Art direction was provided by Robh Ruppel whose view of the present is a little downbeat and whose future shows the fantasy exuberance that looks like 1950s ideas of the future and feels like "Futurama" on steroids.
Two lines of the script have become instantly memorable. One was the deceptively simplistic "Keep moving forward," Cornelius Robinson's personal credo. I had assumed that this was taken from the book, but at the end we see that this is really from a quote by Walt Disney. Perhaps it came from both by coincidence. However, the line I will want to quote comes when minions of the villain find they are just getting themselves into trouble. They reflect, "I'm just not sure how well this plan was thought through." That is a good line and one with great immediate political significance. Danny Elfman provides the score that has some nice melodic turns early on, but clearly he was hired because nobody else does frenetic music for frenzied action quite so well. The animation is computerized 3-D animation and some theaters have actual 3-D.
The film has a fair range of emotion, some decent laughs, and a few engaging ideas. That is probably more than enough for a short animated film. I rate MEET THE ROBINSONS a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The film has been playing in theaters with a classic Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy animated cartoon, "Boat Builders" (1938). It is never terrifically funny, but the old cartoons still have the power to entertain.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0396555/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper