Let me note right off that I saw Meet the Robinsons in the new Real D 3-D process. Eyestrain to one side, the new process—which uses polarized glasses instead of the abominable blue-red lenses of the cheapo anaglyphic 3-D process (think Spy Kids III)—is pretty impressive, though it looks little different than earlier polarized 3-D efforts. Someone might have noticed, however, that rapid camera movements become just so much vertiginous blur (to the point of possibly producing a bout of mal de mer) and that linking scenes with dissolves just plain old doesn’t work. However, overall the 3-D is fun (the flying sausage is a highlight), and makes the movie a pleasant novelty item.
What 3-D doesn’t do is make the movie terribly interesting for anyone past the age of fearing a violent loss of social status unless he or she gets a Meet the Robinsons lunchbox. In other words, kids—especially younger kids—will probably like it; anyone else is apt to find the film a little lightweight, as well as both overstuffed and undercooked.
The story concerns Lewis (voiced by both Daniel Hanson and Jordan Fry), an orphan at that awkward age where puberty is about to overtake him, causing his chances for adoption to diminish accordingly. It doesn’t help that Lewis is also a bit of a social disaster, being too wrapped up in his spectacularly unsuccessful inventions. Obsessed with the idea of creating a device that will allow him to find his earliest memory—so that he will recognize the mother who gave him up—he unveils a gadget at the school science fair that will do just that. His efforts, however, are sabotaged and his device stolen by a mysterious villain called Bowler Hat Guy (voiced by the film’s director, Stephen J. Anderson), who looks for all the world like Snidely Whiplash from the old Dudley Do-Right cartoons. With the aid of a kid from the future, Wilbur (Wesley Singerman), Lewis goes into the future in an attempt to retrieve the machine and set right all the things the theft of the machine will change.
Though it plays fast and loose—very fast and loose—with just about any theory of time travel you care to name, it’s an OK premise. But as developed by the five credited writers—not to mention the input of director Anderson and executive producer John Lasseter—it’s a bit of a mess. There are just too many individual components to the story, especially as concerns the titular Robinson family of the future. None of the characters are more than sketched in, and tend to come and go without leaving much of an impression. A few of them—like the family dog—have no more to do than you already saw in the film’s trailer, and viewers expecting much more of the T-Rex than was seen in the trailer are bound to be disappointed, since his active appearance is brief and his one gag has already been seen. Others—a guy who thinks he’s married to a hand puppet (I am so not going there) and a morbidly obese fellow who exists only to eat—are actually a little creepy.
The fact that the movie operates on the belief that it has two surprise twists—concerning the identities of Lewis in the future and the Bowler Hat Guy in the past—is merely tiresome, since the surprises are very obvious early on. Overall, the jokes are at best so-so and often cribbed from other sources. It may be a relief that Robinsons isn’t littered with pop culture references (there’s one involving Tom Selleck) as is too often the case these days, but it would have been nice if something more than Three Stooges-level slapstick had been found to replace this. The only saving grace is Bowler Hat Guy, but even his addle-brained perfidy becomes too one-note.
Yes, the film has a good theme for children—don’t get bogged down in past failures or allow old wrongs to fester—but the film is ultimately a little too self-congratulatory for its own good. The idea that the future has two options—a flaming dystopian society or a super-sanitized Disney World one—is a stacked deck to endorse a Disneyfied future as utopia. Worse, when the film tosses in a quote from Walt Disney to solidify its theme, the whole thing topples over into outright self-justification that plays to the image of Disney as the great benefactor of humankind. Is that reading too much into a kiddy flick? Probably, but that doesn’t mean that the message isn’t in there. In the end, Robinsons is just middling entertainment bolstered—depending on venue (not all theaters have the necessary equipment)—by its 3-D novelty factor. Rated G.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke