Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Meet the Robinsons / *** (G)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Lewis: Jordan Fry and Daniel Hansen
Wilbur: Wesley Singerman
Bowler Hat Guy: Stephen J. Anderson
Mildred: Angela Bassett
Fanny: Nicole Sullivan
Carl: Harland Williams
Uncle Art: Adam West

Walt Disney Animation presents a film directed by Stephen J. Anderson. Written by Jon Bernstein, based on the book by William Joyce. Running time: 102 min. Rated G.

Recently, my wife and I applied for an international adoption of a little girl from China. We did not do this because of Angelina Jolie, or because we wanted a real-life china doll. We did this because we both had felt all our lives that we had a spirit to offer a child, who may not be of our blood but will be of our hearts. We have two boys of our own, and we felt we would like to offer our love to another child who, without us, may never find out how special she actually is. This also happens to be what Disney’s latest CGI adventure “Meet the Robinsons” is about.

As a baby, Lewis was left at an orphanage doorstep. On the verge of turning thirteen, he has yet to find a family. Lewis is a very bright and determined young boy. He’s an inventor. Although his inventions rarely work and are often the reason why potential parents reject him, he doesn’t let this discourage him. Eventually, he constructs a device that will allow him to look into his own memory to see the image of his mother from when he was just an infant. His poor roommate, Goob, becomes his assistant by default.

He enters his invention into a science fair, but before he can see if it works, it is sabotaged by a man in a bowler hat. We will come to know this man only as the Bowler Hat Guy, thanks to the intervention of Wilbur Robinson, a boy about the same age as Lewis who claims to be from the future. When Lewis refuses to believe Wilbur, he throws Lewis into his time machine to prove it.

The future envisioned in this joyous fantasy film is one straight out of a young boy’s imagination. The popular mode of transportation is via soap bubbles. Buildings construct themselves instantly and bear a resemblance to those air-blown bouncing play stations found at carnivals. The vacuum tube has replaced the elevator for traveling within the confines of a single estate. And a man by the name of Cornelius Robinson is solely responsible for almost all of the technology.

The Robinsons as a family comprise a large assortment of goofball characters. The mother, Fanny (voiced by Nicole Sullivan, “Mad TV”), has trained a chorus of frogs to sing R&B. Grandfather Robinson likes to draw a face on the back of his head to throw people off. One of his brothers is married to a puppet. Uncle Art (Adam West, TV’s “Batman”) is a pizza delivery man who approaches his job as if saving the world. Another uncle’s obsession with canons has him firing everything from dinner meatballs to his own body out of gunpowder-packed tubes. The only sane member appears to be the wisecracking family robot (Harland Williams, “Rocket Man”).

As we are introduced to the Robinsons and their wacky household, we are treated to a loose form of storytelling that was much more popular in the days when Walt Disney himself was overseeing the feature films his studio was producing. There is a randomness and utter detachment from reality in the way this future world is presented that is jarring at first but becomes quite endearing. I was reminded of older animations, like “Pinocchio” and “Dumbo”, in the freeform nature the filmmakers allowed themselves to explore their ideas. At times, the film completely liberates itself from traditional storytelling in an explosion of incoherent imagination.

Lewis himself is an utterly likeable child; voiced, for no reason I’ve been able to discern, by two actors, Jordan Fry and Daniel Hansen. In fact, the freedom of the filmmakers’ imaginations very much carries over into the voice talent of the film. There are characters, such as the Bowler Hat Guy (voiced by director Stephen J. Anderson) and others, whose voices thrum toward extreme cartooniness. And several characters capitalize on the personalities behind them, like Laurie Metcalf’s (TV's “Roseanne”) Dr. Krunklehorn and West’s superhero-inspired delivery guy. There is even a surprise cameo voice that will inspire a chuckle if you can identify it.

The Robinsons’ tendency toward individual expression makes them a perfect family for Lewis’s misfit personality. Despite a proclivity toward kung fu showdowns at the dinner table in the Robinson household, Lewis is honored when they offer to adopt him. But secrets that cannot be revealed here make such a gesture impossible for Lewis to accept.

For all of its overabundance of imagination, “Meet the Robinsons” amounts to little more than a fun time at the movies; this is not necessarily a bad thing. My son Jack was engrossed from start to finish, and I believe even broke his own record for holding his bladder for the last twenty minutes. And besides being a fun time at the cinema, “Meet the Robinsons” does point its small spotlight on an issue that hasn’t been seen in popular films much since Little Orphan Annie made it to the big screen. In the Robinsons’ world, our individuality makes us all orphans in one sense, but it is through the bonding power of family that we get our strength.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I figured I'd leave a comment so at least you know I read your reviews. This review motivates me to go see this film! Nicole