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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Meet the Robinsons

No offense to anyone with the name Wilbur but who would name their kid Wilbur these days? I mean… there are just some names that are cool and some that aren’t, and everybody knows that. It’s a societal reality. Clarence ~ not cool! Percival ~ not cool! Wilbur ~ Well, if you’re a pig then it is cool since that’s the namesake of the “star” of Charlotte’s Web, but if you aren’t porcine, then it’s not cool. These days the names for guys to have are trendy monikers like Aidan, Austin, Jake, Michael, and Ethan. So why then would a hip kid from the future who comes back in time to visit a young inventor be stuck with the sad name of Wilbur Robinson?

I’m talking about
Meet the Robinsons, in case you haven’t been paying attention. It’s the latest animated release from Disney, and it is currently playing at the Essex Cinemas. First let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed Meet the Robinsons, so don’t get me wrong. I just think it had a few things that needed fine-tuned, and this is one of them. Perhaps it’s because I am persnickety about my Robinsons. After all, I don’t believe for a moment that not one in the gazillion of Disney employees involved in the making of this movie didn’t spot one of the most recognizable names of the1960s and beyond? Wil-bur Robinson. Will Robinson. As in “Danger! Danger! Will Robinson.” Say what you will, but those Disney folks are trying to hijack our collective subconscious to get us to love this spaceship-flying cartoon cutie by tricking us into transferring our affections for the Billy Mumy Will Robinson for this flesh-free Robinson. Okay, okay, so maybe I’ve been reading too many Psych 101 books, but I don’t care. I’m always suspicious of Disney. I have a past with this company, going back to my teen years when I worked at Disneyland, but that is a story for another day (and yes, Disneyland DID exist even way back then).

Okay, I’ve taken a few deep breaths, I’ve stuck a fork I was holding into a light socket, and I’m finally awake again and back. Now, as for
Meet the Robinsons, let me tell you that this is really quite a fun adventure, but it will probably fly right over the heads of anyone under the age of ten or so. I’m way older than that and even I practically needed a notebook to keep track of all the plot points going on. Basically, it’s a rip off, er; excuse me, it’s homage to Back to the Future. The story follows a twelve year old genius named Lewis from the time he was left abandoned by his mother on the front porch of an orphanage as an infant as he grows to his current age and then meets equally gifted thirteen year old Wilbur, who has come to the past to make sure that one of Lewis’ inventions is not stolen or harmed during a school science fair scheduled for that very day. Naturally, chaos ensues and a fabulously creepy villain (who closely resembles Ray Bolger’s Barnaby from Disney’s own 1961 Babes in Toyland) does indeed arrive and try to steal Lewis’ machine. This piques Lewis’ curiosity about who this mysterious boy named Wilbur is and how he predicted what was to transpire, and, before you know it, Wilbur has whisked Lewis away in his space ship/time machine to a future that is everything Lewis could ever dream about. And this is just the beginning of their adventure!

In the future Lewis meets a variety of eccentric family members, all of whom are endearing and welcoming to him even though thy have no idea who he is. Wilbur makes it a point to cover Lewis’ luxurious blonde locks with a hat and passes him off as a schoolmate rather than let them know the truth. This all has something to do with “screwing up the time stream” or some such twaddle, which I am sure will have little kids scratching their heads. But, then again, they may just not care since there’s also a dinosaur running around and a robot too to keep them entertained. Me? I was just curious about the hair thing. Hmmm.

One big surprise begets a second about three quarters of the way through the film, and I have to confess I was completely caught off guard by
these plot twists that seemed amazingly clever and grown-up in terms of what you’d expect to experience in a Disney kids’ time travel film. I was impressed by the cajones of screenwriter Jon Bernstein to treat William Joyce’s book and the audience with equal respect and not dumb things down because the movie is primarily for children and families. Fortunately, his twists elevate the story to a level that makes it interesting for the adults to ponder even after the show is over. Don’t worry, though. It’s not going to make it any less enjoyable for the kids. That’s what is so special about Meet the Robinsons. It balances its’ story with enough satisfying moments to please parents and offspring simultaneously without resorting to the usual double entendre type of humor to do so.

The cute factor does loom large in Meet the Robinsons though. As Wilbur’s ship flies over the city it passes what was Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, now renamed “Today Land”. The buildings are a symphony of pastels and people travel across town on giant bubbles, gently tapped into the air by large mechanical hands. Everything has a certain retro deco futuristic combo look reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City. There is even an introduction scene in which Wilbur and Lewis come upon Wilbur’s home and are greeted by a guard’s voice coming from a door with a round window that is practically a duplicate from the scene when Dorothy first approaches the entry door to Oz. Heck, even the time machine speeder Wilbur drives looks suspiciously like the Jetsons’ old family car. In other words, it really is true that everything old is new again. Apparently that even goes for names like Wilbur. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a talking horse named Ed.

By the movie’s end, you’ll leave with a warm spot in your heart despite the obvious “borrowing”
from here and there. While the cast is made up of mostly unknown voice actors, listen closely and you’ll hear Angela Bassett, Adam West, Laurie Metcalfe, and Tom Selleck in small roles. The Selleck part, in particular, is especially cute as the character he plays is described by his wife as “looking just like Tom Selleck” which could not be further from reality if he was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And yet, oddly enough, he sounds exactly like him (though nobody acknowledges that).

I think you’ll get a kick out of
Meet the Robinsons. It’s a sassy and speedy little zip around the future and back in 93 minutes and you won’t have to wait in any long lines like you would if it was a ride at Disneyworld. These Robinsons are a feisty bunch and you’re bound to love them all. I did. I’m just sorry they’re all pixilated because I’d be more than happy to hitch a ride with Wilbur on his next trip home.

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