Lewis and Wilbur Robinson travel to the future in Walt Disney Pictures’ “Meet the Robinsons.”
Think about what would result if “The Addams Family” intermarried with “The Jetsons.”
The creators of “Meet the Robinsons” must have been influenced, consciously or otherwise, by both of these classic television shows. In fact, the movie borrows heavily from many sources, including the time-traveling powerhouse “Back to the Future” trilogy, to cultivate a science fiction morality play worthy of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” series.
The story revolves around 12-year-old orphan genius, Lewis (voiced by Jordan Fry). He spends his childhood inventing things that never quite seem to work as planned and meeting potential parents that never quite seem interested enough to adopt him. Faced with constant failure, even a whiz kid can suffer from low self-esteem.
Just when he’s about to introduce his Memory Scanner, which he hopes will help him find his real mother who left him at the orphanage, the villainous Bowler Hat Guy (Steve Anderson) sabotages and then steals the invention.
Enter Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman), a boy out joyriding in a time machine from the future. Wilbur realizes the Bowler Hat Guy is trying to alter events and rewrite the future. Wilbur picks up Lewis and takes him to 2037 where the orphan meets a cast of whacky characters and learns some valuable lessons, Disney style.
First off, the future is a little too bright, a little too Jimmy Neutron. There’s a little too much emphasis on what old Walt Disney liked to call the “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in the ensuing montage, accentuating the marvels of technology while relegating humanity to an almost ant-like status.
Then there’s the Robinsons. Wilbur’s zany, functioning dysfunctional family displays all the wholesomeness of a classic Disney clan while clinging to aberrations and eccentricities that are more reminiscent of a Tim Burton flick. There are so many of them, their presence distracts the audience, muddling the plot.
Aside from the fact that their introduction is necessary to fulfill the title of the film, their insertion into the action serves only one main role: A pivotal scene in which they unite to protect Lewis from Bowler Hat Guy and his evil hat. This entire sequence seems strangely familiar, as if the screenwriters had been watching “The Incredibles” during a late-night brainstorming session.
Of course, kids won’t notice all the recycled bits that make up this patchwork quilt. They probably won’t identify with the homage to foreign martial arts films and they won’t recognize the visual references to “The Matrix” trilogy. They certainly won’t appreciate the use of Adam West’s voice for Uncle Art, a superhero pizza delivery man.
Despite its chaotic storyline and its excessive use of eye-candy to buttress the visualization of a Disneyesque utopia, “Meet the Robinsons” should be credited for integrating serious issues such as child abandonment, adoption, low self-esteem and the futility of revenge. There are valid messages scattered throughout the movie, though they are sometimes overshadowed by the pomposity and brashness of flashy escapades. They’re there, nonetheless, ready to be plucked up like hidden Easter eggs; and kids will want to watch this movie over and over again.
It may not be Disney’s best, but, at its heart, it does reflect Disney’s values. Walt would be proud.