Sunday, March 25, 2007

Review: Meet The Robinsons (2007)

Meet The Robinsons
95 minutes
Rated G

By Scott Mendelson

About halfway into Disney's Meet The Robinsons, I noticed my face was starting to hurt a little. I moved my jaw a little bit and nothing was specifically sore. After rubbing my cheeks for a second, I let it go and my face returned to that pained status almost instantly. I then realized that my face was in mild pain because I had been unconsciously grinning for at least the previous twenty minutes.  Meet The Robinsons is the best all-around cartoon since The Incredibles. It's actually funnier than The Emperor's New Groove and almost as moving as Toy Story 2. It's a broad declaration of war from Disney to all the other competing studios that have dipped their toes into the animation waters in the last few years. This is Disney at its prime. 

Meet The Robinsons is everything a great cartoon should be, while ignoring many of the worst trends of late. There are no pop-culture references. The entire cast is filled not with sleepwalking celebrities and flavors of the month, but with veteran voice over professionals (Angela Bassett and Adam West are the biggest names in the cast). The action is only occasionally frantic, and everything that happens is driven by character or established story. The animation and visuals are eye-popping, as this rich, colorful film uses its 3D gimmick to better effect than any 3D film since The Polar Express.  A little plot: Abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage as an infant, Lewis (voiced with splendid honesty by both Daniel Hanson and Jordan Fry) spends his days attempting various crackpot inventions. These inventions may one day lead to scientific glory, but now only prevent him from being adopted by freaked-out potential parents. Meanwhile, as he prepares to enter his latest device into the science fair, a kid from the future named Wilbur (Wesley Singerman, reigning it in when possible with a slightly more frantic character) arrives to warn Lewis to avoid the treacherous 'Bowler Hat Guy' (director Stephen J Anderson pulled a Dick Cheney and cast himself as the villain). Can Wilbur be trusted any more than Bowler Hat Guy? Can Lewis use time travel to journey back in time to find out why his mother gave him up? Is Danny Elfman doing the score, because that sure sounds like Danny Elfman music? The answer to at least one of these questions is: of course!

What follows is a delightful romp into the future, as low-key gags and deadpan humor mix with emotional pathos and larger than life spectacle. Despite being worked on by seven credited writers, the screenplay has a singular vision and is incredibly dense and sharp (credit probably goes to Anderson's experiences as an adoptee, which likely guided the storyline). The time travel plot is refreshingly complicated, with several twists along the way. Even if young kids can't quite follow the story well enough to explain it, they'll still enjoy the ride.  From the singing Dean Martin-ish frogs of the future (featured heavily in the promotions, but used sparingly in the film), to Lewis' orphanage roommate ('Goup', voiced by Michael Josten with deadpan brilliance), to Bowler Hat Guy (he is a figure of fun, but he fails not out of stupidity but because he doesn't enjoy evildoing as much as he thinks he does), every major character feels like a fully-developed human being (or frog). So well-formed are these characters that when Bowler Hat Guy accidentally runs into Goup, I found myself prematurely laughing in anticipation of the character-driven banter that I correctly predicted would occur (Bowler Hat's advice to Goup deserves to be on Hallmark cards everywhere).

I haven't scratched the surface of the pleasures this film has to offer. The characters are genuinely special (I want a Bowler Hat Guy action figure!), the writing and acting is razor sharp, and the emotional pay-offs are completely earned (the moral is also something actually worth preaching, and the origin of a key line of dialogue provides a perfect cap). This is terrific, splendid entertainment. The highest compliment I can pay is this: As most of my friends and family know, I'm expecting my first child in September. Meet The Robinsons is the first new film I've seen that I can't wait to show that child when she is old enough to appreciate great cinema.

Grade: A+

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