There is a clear pecking order when it comes to computer-animated features from Disney. On the top tier are the Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, which push the envelope technologically and are usually have a deeper, more sophisticated story than your typical animated film. On the next rung down is, frankly, everything else.
Meet the Robinsons clearly falls into this second tier, lacking the lushness and complexity of its Pixar brethren. That doesn’t make a bad movie, just simpler and less challenging. While even films like Finding Nemo have the ability to keep the adults entertained while still engaging the kiddies. This bright and cheerful sci-fi tale, however, is one you let your eight-to-ten-year-old throw in the DVD player while you pour yourself a Pinot and curl up with a book.
Lewis is a 12-year-old boy who has lived in an orphanage since being left there by his mother as an infant. He is a budding inventor but his contraptions always seem to backfire in ways that scare off prospective adoptive parents. His roommate, a diminutive Little Leaguer named Mike “Goob” Yagoobian, tries to get him to focus, but Lewis, feeling the onset of his teenage years, becomes obsessed with finding his birth mother. To that end, he tries to invent a mind scanner that he hopes will help him track her down.
He works day and night to get the contraption ready for the school science fair, to the point that sleep-deprived Goob can barely keep himself awake at his baseball games. At the fair, however, his mind-scanner is sabotaged by a weird guy in a bowler hat who turns out to be a time traveler from the future. Lewis is rescued by another unlikely time traveler, a boy named Wilbur Robinson, and spirited away to the future so he can repair the mind scanner and win the science fair like he’s supposed to.
Unfortunately, Wilbur’s time machine is damaged and it turns out he was not supposed to be using it, so he puts Lewis to work repairing it before his dad gets home. It turns out Wilbur’s father is the guy who invented, well, just about everything. Thinking this other boy is just a bit crazy, Lewis tries to slip away, running into the rest of Wilbur’s family who are more than a bit crazy, but also accepting of Lewis in a way that he hasn’t known before.
Meanwhile, the bowler hat guy is trying to pass off Lewis’ mind-scanner as his own invention, but he’s not exactly the brightest laser in the lab. In fact, it’s quickly clear that the bowler hat itself is the real brains of the operation. Unable to figure out how to work it, he decides to kidnap Lewis so the boy can show him.
The future in Meet the Robinsons is bright, colorful and, not coincidentally, bears a striking resemblance to Disney’s own Tommorowland (which, in one of the films better visual jokes, makes an appearance as Todayland). The film’s humor is frenetic, fast-paced and refreshingly devoid of bodily function humor and teenaged snottiness. Meet the Robinsons also manages to convey a nicely positive message, leaving behind past wrongs and getting on with life, without being overtly preachy about it.
No one is ever going to confuse this movie with The Incredibles, but compared to a lot of the non-Pixar Disney CG efforts we’ve seen before Meet the Robinsons is a solid effort.