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Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Disney DVD
DVD Released: 10/23/2007

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/17/2007

When I was growing up, animated feature films were an event. "Cartoons", as we called them back then (God, I sound like an old man!), came to theaters maybe once a year, typically courtesy of Disney (and these were often re-releases). There was an occasional contribution by someone else, mainly Don Bluth, but the bottom line is that big-screen animation was a big deal. Today, there seems to be an animated movie opening every month or so. This has diminished the importance of the films, and even worse, created an apathy in the film-going public meaning that they don't give equal attention to these films. While Ratatouille ran away with the box office this year, two better animated films hit theaters and only made a small impact. They were Surf's Up and the newly released Disney entry Meet the Robinsons.

Meet the Robinsons opens with a baby being left outside of an orphanage. Twelve years later, that baby has become Lewis (voiced by Daniel Hansen), a brainy child who loves inventions. He is always tinkering with something, often keeping his roommate Goob (voiced by Matthew Josten) from sleeping. After a series of unsuccessful adoption meetings, Lewis decides that he needs to find his birth-mother and the best way to do this is to remember the night that she left him at the orphanage. He works day and night creating a "memory scanner", which he enters in his school science fair. Once there, Lewis meets Wilbur (voiced by Wesley Singerman), who warns Lewis to be aware of a man in a bowler hat. Bowler Hat Guy (voiced by Stephen J. Anderson) appears and his hat sabotages Lewis' invention, creating a disaster. Lewis flees the fair and Bowler Hat Guy makes off with the "memory scanner".

Lewis returns to the orphanage, defeated. Wilbur appears and explains that he is in fact, from the future, and Lewis must fix his invention. Lewis is, of course, skeptical, so, to prove his trustworthiness, Wilbur puts Lewis in his flying time machine and takes Lewis to the future. Lewis is mesmerized by the bright and beautiful landscape, and he's equally in awe when he meets Wilbur's bizarre family. Meanwhile, we learn that Bowler Hat Guy has a time machine as well, and he's followed Lewis and Wilbur here, as he's intent on torturing Lewis. Wilbur needs to convince Lewis to return to his own time and fix the "memory scanner", but Lewis is enthralled by the future and doesn't want to leave.

At it's core, Meet the Robinsons is a combination of Back to the Future and The Addams Family. But, it's much more than that. In a time when animated films are often accused of copying each other, Meet the Robinsons does some things to separate itself from the pack...odd things. The beginning and ending of the film would be classified as fairly normal by most as, again, the movie parallels Back to the Future, or any other time travel film where a character is attempting to save their own destiny. However, the middle of the film gets sort of weird. Not David Lynch weird, but odd enough for me to think, "This is from Disney?"

The unique nature of this section comes mostly from the characters, although the section where Lewis is forced to wear a hat made of fruit is far from normal. To put it mildly, the Robinsons are an odd family. For those who haven't seen the film, I don't want to give away too much, but there is an obese man who's confined to a chair and another who's constantly shooting meatballs out of a small cannon. The characters here seem more like a group of circus freaks than the kind of clan that we'd see in a family film. But, it's OK, because Meet the Robinsons is not only having fun (more on that in a moment), but it's also playing with the idea that it's all right to be yourself. I can imagine that some may find this message a bit too liberal, but the movie shows that although these people seem like weirdos to Lewis at first, he soon learns that they love one another and that they work well together. For a boy who's never had a family, it's heartbreaking and inspiring for Lewis to see one this close. There's also something going on with the character of Wilbur Robinson, who's basically a smart-alec kid. But, there's something in his lightning fast movements and his snappy comebacks which make him more charming than annoying. While Lewis is the main character and essentially the "hero" of the movie, Wilbur is more like an action hero and takes charge at times. Oh, did I mention the "Rat Pack"-like mafia frogs? These attributes reminded of Chuck Jones-era "Looney Tunes" shorts.

Not surprisingly, Meet the Robinsons follows many of the standard Disney animation rules -- positive message, a creepy villain, a child with one or no parents (What is up with that? Someone should get a grant and study that.), etc. But, the movie also plays fast and loose with many of the other conventions of the genre. As noted above, the "hero" duties are somewhat split between two characters. The narrative almost breaks down in the film's mid-section as it really gets loose when introducing the odd hi-jinks of the Robinsons. This part of the movie will either enthrall or delight viewers, as it really revels in the peculiarities of this family. And in my family twist on conventionality, the villain is totally incompetent.

Yes, Meet the Robinsons may be somewhat different, but the bottom line is that the movie is fun. It's fast-paced and there are some laugh-out-loud moments. But, the movie also brings us well-rounded characters and, of course, it's infused with the unmistakable Disney heart. As with any time-travel movie, the story gets a bit wonky near the end, but otherwise, Meet the Robinsons is a blast.

Meet the Robinsons keeps moving forward on DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I'm not sure if this was a digital-to-digital transfer, but the image looks quite good. The picture is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic and the image has a nice depth. I noted some slight blurring around characters in motion at times, but there is no video noise or distortion. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers a nice sampling of stereo and surround sound effects, most notably from music cues and in the action scenes. Many family films suffer in the subwoofer department, but there's plenty of bass here -- just go to Chapter 14.

The Meet the Robinsons DVD contains a few bonus features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Stephen J. Anderson. He speaks at length about the film's production, making sure to mention the evolution of the film and how certain characters and ideas changed over time. Anderson did the voice for Bowler Hat Guy in the movie, and he switches to that character from time-to-time in the commentary. Anderson also introduces 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. These scenes are comprised of unfinished animation or storyboards, and they offer some alternative moments from the finished film. "Inventing the Robinson" (18 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers comments from Anderson, author William Joyce, character designer Joe Moshier, composer Danny Elfman and others. This piece examines the journey from idea to screen, which glimpses of early storyboards. There are comments from the actors, who we get to see in action. "Keep Moving Forward: Inventions that Shaped the World" (6 minutes) is an old-school Disney-style educational short which examines famous inventors throughout history. The last two extras are MUSIC VIDEOS, for the songs "Little Wonders" by Rob Thomas and "Kids of the Future" by Jonas Brothers.

Meet the Robinsons is also debuting on Blu-ray Disc. The transfer is 1080p HD AVC and the film is letterboxed at 1.78:1. Seeing the DVD, I wasn't expecting much of an improvement, but the clarity and the amount of detail here is obvious. This movie doesn't feature Pixar style highly-detailed or photo-realistic animation, but this transfer picks up all of the minutia in the both the foreground and background. The image has a very nice depth and the colors nearly leap off of the screen. The blurring seen on the DVD is not in evidence here. The primary audio on the Blu-ray is a Linear PCM 5.1 track which runs at 6.9 Mbps. This track offers clear dialogue and sound effects which comes through with nice clarity. The audio is very detailed and some stereo effects are noticeable here which I didn't detect from the DVD. Surround sound effects are fine, but the bass response is only average, and is actually less than that on the DVD. Save for two set-top games, the extras here are identical to the DVD.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long