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"MEET THE ROBINSONS"
(2007) (voices of Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman) (G)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Comedy: A 12-year-old orphan and failed inventor finds his world turned upside down when a 13-year-old takes him into the future in hopes of fixing a time-space continuum problem caused by some villains' nefarious plans.
PLOT:
Lewis (voice of DANIEL HANSEN & JORDAN FRY) is a 12-year-old kid who, like roommate Goob (voice of MATTHEW JOSTEN), has grown up at an orphanage under the care of Mildred (voice of ANGELA BASSETT). He dreams of being adopted one day, but the strong inventor streak in him always, if accidentally, undermines any such family future. Accordingly, he's decided that since he had to have seen his mother long ago when she left him at the orphanage, he must have some memory of her in his head, so he invents a memory scanner to allow him to see an image of her.

Unbeknownst to him, however, his machine has drawn the interest of two people from the future. One is the Bowler Hat Guy (voice of STEPHEN JOHN ANDERSON), a snide if somewhat dimwitted villain whose desire to steal the invention and pass it off as his own is really controlled by "Doris," a mechanized bowler hat with nefarious intentions.

The other is 13-year-old Wilbur Robinson (voice of WESLEY SINGERMAN) who inadvertently allowed Bowler Hat Guy to steal one of his father's two time machines to make this trip back into the past. Needing to fix that mistake as well as a related problem with the time-space continuum, Wilbur takes Lewis into the future where the would-be inventor meets the rest of the Andersons. While his mom, Franny (voice of NICOLE SULLIVAN) is grounded and his inventor dad Cornelius (TOM SELLECK) is often busy, the rest of his immediate and extended family -- including Carl the robot (voice of HARLAND WILLIAMS) -- is a large and rather eccentric bunch.

Ending up hopping around through time, Lewis ultimately learns what it's like to have a family as well as the lesson of never giving up, all as he and Wilbur must contend with the villains' nefarious actions and desires.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Any time one company takes over another one or at least a division thereof, they must not only decide what to do with the personnel, but also any product or projects that were already in production or completed. Sometimes, the best decision is to clear house and start anew, but at others, it's worth the gamble to go ahead and release what already exists, in hopes of getting some sort of return on investment.

Thus seems to be the case with "Meet the Robinsons," an animated comedy from Disney that was delayed once Pixar took over Disney's animation department. Clearly not up to that company's standards (nor the Mouse House's in their heyday), but certainly not as bad as many other contemporary, animated offerings, the film has some fun and funny moments. And for those lucky enough to see it this way, it's also offered in rather crisp 3-D, all without those awful red and blue glasses (specs are still required, but at least these polarized ones won't make you feel as if you're going blind in one eye).

Of course, visuals will only take any film so far. I imagine the 3-D version is probably more entertaining than its 2-D brethren simply because all of the eye candy helps moderate the occasionally loose storytelling, the various non sequiturs, and the general looniness that's seemingly present just to, well, be looney and chaotic.

All of that's presumably intended to be funny, but director Stephen Anderson -- working from an adaptation of William Joyce's "A Day With Wilbur Robinson" by Jon Bernstein and Michelle Spitz along with a number of other scribes -- often lets the material get out of hand and thus come off as more annoying than humorous, let alone hilarious. At the same time, however, it's in some of those small moments where the comedic gems are found. Most are related to the villain -- known as the Bowler Hat Guy -- mainly because of his snide but also dimwitted demeanor, and his various related failures of pulling off his scheme.

Voiced by Anderson, he's the film's highlight character, with a topiary T-Rex coming in a close second, and everyone else -- including the young protagonist -- falling well behind both of them. And much of that's due to the otherwise middling plot (notwithstanding all of the sci-fi shenanigans).

In keeping with Disney tradition, young Lewis is sans a parent or two, and he wants to build a memory scanner that will allow him to remember his mom's looks. Before he can say "back to the future," he's whisked away there by another boy, who explains that there are problems in the time continuum. It seems BHG wants the boy's invention to claim as his own, and he's returned to the past to get it.

In the meantime, however, Lewis meets Wilbur's large and quite eccentric family, and that's when the film turns into a big ol' mess. Kids might like the ensuing comedic chaos where the various goofy characters go about displaying their normal eccentricities, but adults will likely find it all rather disjointed, not to mention cumbersome and disruptive for the story.

Considering that, it's surprising that the film gets better as it continues to unfold, mainly because that's when all of the sci-fi issues, time looping and such finally bubble up to the surface, all of which give the proceedings a cool, somewhat cute, and occasionally touching vibe as everything is explained and/or falls into temporal place.

Certainly never lacking in movement, and containing positive if predictable messages about the importance of family and never giving up on one's dream (the mantra being "keep moving forward"), the film is entertaining enough (the younger the viewer the better for that) to earn a passing grade. With a stronger script and less zany chaos, however, it could have been so much more. "Meet the Robinsons" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed March 22, 2007 / Posted March 30, 2007


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