U.S. Release Date: March 30, 2007
Distributor: Buena Vista
Writer: Don Hall
Producer: John Lasseter (executive)
Composer: Danny Elfman
Running Time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: G

Manic Animation Numbs a Good Story
by Scott Holleran

Anyone who can survive the sensory-overloaded first half of the hysterical Meet the Robinsons will probably find something to appreciate about the rest of this three-dimensional splurge. The latest digital cartoon—both the largest 3D and digital release ever—is frankly exasperating.

With six credited writers, a "head of story" and William Joyce, whose book A Day with Wilbur Robinson is the basis for the science fiction family feature, as executive producer, it's little wonder the movie feels frontloaded with more bells, whistles and gadgets than a toy convention.

The thing looks great—these animators go to town with curves, lines and splashy colors—and certain scenes, such as the trailer-featured dinosaur chase, are particularly effective in 3D. The plot is simple enough: an insecure yet inventive orphan with eyeglasses and spiky hair travels to the future, discovering his potential.

Meet the Robinsons' optimistic theme lets the little fella, Lewis, whose science projects often require multiple improvements, learn that making mistakes is a legitimate part of achieving goals. How Lewis, who longs to meet his blood mother for the whole movie, chooses to resolve the matter is the movie's strength.

What happens in between is less successful. When two figures from the future—a black-haired boy and Bowler Hat Guy, a mustache-twirling villain like the cartoon character Snidely Whiplash—stake their claim on Lewis, transporting him to the future and playing tug of war in a struggle that hints at more serious implications, Meet the Robinsons goes overboard.

Once the transporter lands with Lewis in the future, the movie becomes an ear-splitting barrage of unrelated images with a deliberately manic approach. Messages and characters conflict and the resulting turmoil, intended as zany, is overcooked. When one finally meets the Robinsons, they're as fun as a crabby child's temper tantrum—at twice the speed.

Things slip into hyperdrive; a veritable Attack of the Robinsons, with cocktail lounge-singing mafia frogs, a grandfather with backwards clothes, an aunt that plays with trains, a chairman of the board that looks like Shrek, a couch potato, a hand puppet freak, a dog, a robot, a contagious pop tune, a kid who drops the ball in the big game, a bowler hat contraption named Doris—and the edgy bits tear its wispy characters to shreds.

Much of it is explained, folding into the future-focused story, but as the frenzy subsides, it runs out of juice. Unlike the cleverly constructed Back to the Future trilogy, which Meet the Robinsons mimics, the story is jumbled at random. Bookended by Walt Disney's own stab at 3D animation, the charming 1953 short Working for Peanuts, featuring Donald Duck and Chip and Dale, and one of his quotations selected as a closing note, it's hard not to notice that Meet the Robinsons is missing Walt's animation magic.

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