I want to start this review by talking about John Lasseter:
If you don’t know who that man is, you can’t call yourself a Disney/Pixar fan. You just can’t. As far as I’m concerned, this man is the animation GOD.
Why is he God? First of all, he’s pretty much responsible for directing Pixar’s first three movies, and now he acts as executive producer on literally EVERY SINGLE MOVIE DISNEY PUTS OUT (Disney animation as well as Pixar, with the exception being Cars 2).
In 2006 when Disney bought Pixar, Lasseter was named Chief creative officer. Suddenly, this guy was put in charge of not only Pixar, but Disney Animation as well.
BEST. CHOICE. EVER
I’m not saying that Disney animation had been in a lull. Ok, maybe the fact I’m not reviewing Chicken Little and Home on the Range means something (those are generally agreed upon as being the WORST Disney movies ever…), but I’ll be the first to admit the the age before Disney’s so called “revival” isn’t as bad as many people think.
Now why am I talking about Lasseter on a movie before the Disney Revival? Because this is the first movie he oversaw as part of his new assignment. And while this movie is super messy, it has things about it that you can just “tell” are him. Starting with this movie, Disney movies (to me at least) begin to feel a bit more “Pixar-ish.” The sad part is I can’t even explain what I mean….
(meanwhile, Pixar would be starting to go “downhill”… according to everyone but me. But we’ll get to that later…)
So! Meet the Robinsons. This crazy little movie is kind of in a league of its own. It’s not really like Hercules and Emperor’s new Groove, but I suppose I have to put it there…? It’s sort of by itself. Let’s dive in and see what I think of this one. I’m going to be brief with the synopsis, because I could explain it all day and you might still not understand it….
This movie centers around an orphan named Lewis. Lewis is a “special” kid – he’s insanely smart, loves inventing things (and often fails), and doesn’t understand why no one wants to adopt him. After believing no one will ever want him but his own birth mother (who dropped him off when he was a baby), he invents a machine for the science fair at school called the “memory scanner,” which scans your brain for a desired memory and displays it in picture form on a screen.
But things don’t go so well for Lewis at the science fair after he runs into a kid named Wilbur who says he’s a time cop from the future and is after a man in a bowler hat who stole a time machine. Lewis of course thinks he’s crazy, but we see the bowler hat guy and his hat, who he calls Doris (it’s actually DOR-15, and she’a robot) sabotage Lewis’s memory scanner. It blows up, causing Lewis to leave in a frustrated state.
Back at the orphanage, he meets Wilbur again, who has followed him. Wilbur tells him he has to go back and fix the memory scanner or the time stream will be ruined. Lewis thinks he’s crazy until he shows him his own time machine and takes him to the future, hoping that will make him realize he has to go back to the science fair.
But Lewis has other ideas. Now that there’s a time machine, he says the memory scanner is pointless. He can just use the time machine to go back and find his real mom. He messes around with the time machine and it breaks. Wilbur freaks out, saying his parents are going to kill him because he wasn’t supposed to take it. He’s not really a time cop but instead a kid who’s trying to make up for a mistake he’s done.
He and Lewis manage to get the time machine back to Wilbur’s house, where Wilbur makes lewis a deal: if he can fix it, Wilbur will take him back to see his mom. Lewis attempts with no avail. Wilbur heads off into his house and orders Lewis to stay there. Of course this doesn’t work, and Lewis manages to meet all of Wilbur’s family.
His mother Franny is super welcoming and has him stay for dinner, where Lewis is part of a sort of insane… thing. He attempts to fix an invention of theirs and fails (again). Ready to apologize and run out, he’s surprised when they all clap and tell him that failure is good.
Meanwhile, the bowler hat guy is back in the past trying to pass off the memory scanner as his own to change the future. When it doesn’t work, he and Doris work to kidnap Lewis to get him to fix the memory scanner so he can help them. There are a few mishaps at seizing the boy.
Some stuff happens, Lewis is asked to join the Robinson family (but can’t – according to Wilbur), the future manages to change (for the worse) and only Lewis can fix it.
I don’t want to give away a lot of the last part of the movie, because I think it has a lot of good twists and plot points. You don’t really see it coming, and I enjoyed watching it the first time because of this. I want to keep this review spoiler free.
In a lot of ways, this movie is just one giant ridiculous mess. You spend half of the movie wondering if any of this craziness even has a point. I think that’s why a lot of people just write this movie off. Strictly put, I don’t think a lot of people “get” this movie.
Yes it is crazy. Yes it is ridiculous. There’s a good solid 20 minutes that just leave you scratching your head going “what?” There’s a giant squid as a butler. There are singing frogs. There’s a man who delivers pizza via space ship. There’s a meatball canon, and a guy who thinks his puppet wife is real (and somehow they managed to have kids…?).
Just… do yourself a favor when you watch this movie. Don’t get caught up in trying to rationalize all the weird. Just enjoy the ride. Because in the end, this is what all the weirdness boils down to:
Right there. That last line. “They’re family.” The Robinsons are crazy and weird, but they are a family unit. A completely cohesive family unit. Nevermind that the movie literally has to take a break from the plot to explain how everyone is related to each other (culminating in that scene above), and never mind I still don’t really know if even I understand how everyone is related. Wilbur is the most normal of all of them, and he’s even a little bit bonkers and wacky. But no matter what, they’re still a family. They stick together no matter what. Even if a giant dinosaur is coming after them. They are a huge, crazy, insane family.
That’s right. This is another Disney movie that somehow manages to convey the importance of family. It’s imbedded in this movie so centrally because it’s the main want of our main character.
I adore Lewis. I think he is a great, well developed protagonist. Ok yes he’s a typical trope of a nerdy smart kid, and he really looks the part. But let’s not think about his looks for a second. Let’s really dive into the psychy of this kid.
Lewis was dropped at an orphanage when he was a kid. He’s had a ton of adoption interviews, all of which have ended in heartache or disaster. This fact alone is what shapes this kid’s personality and character. He’s desperate for a family, so much so that he’s willing to invent a memory scanner to see the only person who at one time or another actually cared about him! He almost gives up on the past when Wilbur’s mom offers for him to be a Robinson, something that could have screwed with the space-time continuum. He’s a smart kid – he should have known that! But his desire to be loved, accepted, and part of a family overrode all rational thinking.
Another thing I think is interesting about Lewis is that BECAUSE all of his adoption interviews have failed, he believes that failure is the worst possible thing in the world. He’s used to his inventions failing and people getting mad at him. Only when he goes to the future and meets the Robinsons and “fails” does he realize that there can be another way to look at it. “From failing, you learn.”
This is an incredibly unique lesson for Disney to teach in a movie. It’s one I don’t think they’ve ever taught before, and believe it or not, it’s well done. Because we’ve all been that kid who gets pissed because we just can’t get it right. we’ve all apologized when something we did screwed up and hurt someone, physically or emotionally. It’s good for everyone to just remember that failing is just a part of life. Without failing, you don’t learn what’s wrong, and you don’t learn what to try next. By failing you can even create something you never set out to create.
The other message in this movie again is another unique one for Disney to explore, and it’s done actually pretty well and surprisingly subtly (for kids at least). It’s best illustrated again with the help of Tumblr:
Now I know it’s just a silly mashup of Disney contradicting themselves, but it’s really not. That there is the man in the bowler hat, or (one of) our villains. He’s in the past telling Lewis’ roommate Goob how best to live his life. See, this is what the man in the bowler hat has done his whole life. He’s let his hatred fester and rot him deep down, and in the end it gets him nothing. He dwelled on a few random incidences that happened in the past, and it destroyed him. Only at the end of the movie when he let’s go and decides NOT to dwell on the past is he able to move past it.
DOR-15 is the same way. She was created to be a helping hand, but when Mr. Robinson decided it didn’t work and she was getting out of control, he shut her down. She (the hat) is taking this and running with it (although to be fair she’s just super evil… the man in the bowler hat is a better example of this lesson…)
Heck, they even illustrate this point with Lewis. He’s so set on finding his family in the past by visiting his mom that he refuses to think of what “could be.” He’s not willing to wait to see his life develop and get good. Instead, he pours himself into this invention to find something in the past that he probably can’t change. Dwelling on the past only ends in heartache and destroys your personality to open itself up to the possibilities.
It’s like Wilbur’s dad’s motto: Keep Moving Forward.
With all the amazing good things about this movie, I will say that it isn’t perfect by a long shot. It’s a mess. You can almost tell that someone came in a tweaked this movie to try and make it flow a bit more. LASSESTER! 60% of this movie was changed when he came in. You can tell, but it’s not without its flaws.
It’s hard to understand sometimes. It’s hard to follow others. Sometimes you don’t understand the purposes of our characters, and other than Lewis, Wilbur, the man in the Bowler Hat, DOR-15, and maybe Frannie and Bud (Wilbur’s mom and grandfather), you don’t know the other characters more than just as caricatures.
But at the same time… that’s ok. Because this movie IS itself a caricature. It’s a wacky crazy ridiculous movie that a lot of people will brush off because to them, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying it does. I’m not saying there aren’t ridiculous plot holes (because there are). I’m not saying they did time travel perfectly (because they didn’t…) but what I AM saying is that this movie TRIES. It tries to give us something we’ve never seen before. It tries to give us lessons we’ve never heard from Disney. GOOD lessons. It might take a few watches to really get it, but when you do, it just clicks, and you realize how smart this movie really is.
It’s hard to write this review without spoilers, but trust me, if you’ve never seen it, you’ll be glad I didn’t ruin it. The way this movie plays out is fun. It has twists and turns you might expect, and it has some you don’t. Just buckle yourself in for a wild, crazy ride.
And if you don’t at least tear up at the end when Rob Thomas’ “Little Wonders” song starts, you’re dead inside. Best. Song. EVER!
I give Meet the Robinsons (2007) a 3.4 out of 5.
(btw, it’s getting insanely hard to put these in a “my favorites” list….)
Up Next: Bolt (2008)