Review: “Meet the Robinsons”

The second of Disney Animation’s experiments at going it alone on a CG-animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons” is certainly a step forward from the disastrous 2005 debut with “Chicken Little”. Yet in spite of its good intentions and endearing clumsiness, the film still fails to connect much beyond that – ultimately proving that the Pixar acquisition didn’t come a moment too soon.

‘Robinsons’ tells a new, but eerily familiar tale about Lewis, a young scientific genius orphan who never seems to fit in with his family. On the verge of giving up his passion, he’s given a glimpse of the future by a teenage time traveler – a wonderful wacky place that his inventions formed a major part in helping to create.

Along with meeting the teen’s extended and rather eccentric family, he’s also being taunted and threatened by a mysterious moustached man in a bowler hat who seems to hold a major grudge against him. Lewis soon falls for this future but comes to learn that not only must he go back to make sure it happens, but stop living in the past and ‘keep moving forward’.

Where Pixar is strong, and what Disney used to understand when it was under the rule of Tsar Katzenberg, is that the stories connected with audiences because of their broad emotional range, timeless plots and clever character based laughs that incorporated gags for all sections of the audience.

‘Robinsons’ does have a solid emotional back story in it revolving around issues of parental abandonment, fitting in, and so on – but plays it very late in the game. The result is a strong ending, but one that feels tacked on and truly lacks the emotional power of a more cohesive story constructed to build towards that point.

Worse still it confuses its serious message with the dangerously jingo-istic “keep moving forward” mantra which is repeatedly sledgehammered into the audience’s brains. It’s quite confusing considering the emotional revelations of the film come from dwelling and introspection, the very things that mantra of not stopping to think and look back rails against.

The film also deliberately plays it zany – every character is just plain weird, every situation involves wacky relatives doing something even a toddler would find crazy, hell there’s even a talking dinosaur who admittedly generates much of the film’s few scant laughs.

Ultimately though this world and its inhabitants are so light and frothy that it never pulls us in – rendering the villain into an almost Three Stooges-style buffoon and every danger utterly impotent. It’s a very happy and bright film, but not a particularly funny or clever one.

The animation is top-notch though. Armed with a 3D effect the future vistas, which looks essentially like a sunnier version of what the people of the 50’s thought the 21st century would be like, comes out well. Danny Elfman delivers a rousing score, and director Stephen Anderson keeps the pace moving along with gusto.

Yet whilst it all looks startlingly sharp and in high detail, ultimately its the lack of focus in the story and emotional elements that brings this castle crumbling down. With seven writers officially listed on the project, it comes as no surprise that consistency and clarity aren’t among the film’s strong points.

Energy and a sunny disposition is all good, but ultimately it’s all surface and never convincing or compelling enough to stop us from keep moving forward past its ultimate position on the video store shelves.