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Meet The Robinsons

On the surface, Meet the Robinsons looks as inventive as its protagonist, Lewis. Based on a picture book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, by the brilliant and probably crazy William Joyce, the film captures the wild visuals of Joyce quite handily. But the book didn't have to make sense of all of its pictures, each page exploding with fun and nonsense.

We expect something more from a Disney film, especially in this age of Pixar. A story needs to have heart, and director Stephen J. Anderson struggles mightily to give Meet the Robinsons that very thing. With all the stuff going on in his source material, though, it's like trying to juggle twelve angry kittens while swimming.

Orphaned Lewis wants what all movie orphans want: to find his true family. Frighteningly brilliant, he keeps scaring off potential adoptive parents with new devices that go awry at crucial moments. After counseling with the orphanage director Mildred (Angela Bassett), Lewis decides that he has to recapture the memory of who his actual mother is. Little does he know that that quest may change the world.

To be fair, neither do we really understand why, because before Lewis knows it, his invention is being sabotaged and he's dragged to the future by the hyper-active and strangely secretive Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman). There the movie dives in to Joyce's visuals, and sharp-eyed kids will pick up on clues that Anderson laid out in the first act.

It doesn't make much sense, but it is fun. Perhaps wisely for the thinness of his story, Anderson doesn't allow much time to breathe and try to connect everything up - because a lot of it is random. Anything added to the original imagery, like the film's villain The Bowler Hat Guy (Anderson himself), seems weak in comparison.

From the trailers, any smart film viewer has figured out this film's plot twist. While that doesn't have to be a weakness, Anderson directs as if it's going to be a brilliant last-minute revelation. It does have a little pay-off for older viewers, with a good in-joke voice casting.

When the script, written by almost everybody the studio could drag in, gives Anderson some visual gag time, it works pretty well. Again, he's working from some choice visual material, but he also knows how to stage physical comedy. Out of nowhere, the movie turns into a ridiculous kung fu movie involving a meatball cannon (please, don't question, just want one), and it's charming. Singing frogs, incompentent T-Rex assassins and even the horribly proportioned Bowler Hat Guy all have some great bits.

But as soon as things turn to exposition, the film starts dragging. Mainly, it's because the only thing they can really explain is that plot twist, and the exposition spends as much time as possible trying to keep us from figuring it out. Like last year's Santa Clause 3, the script also promises a dystopian alternate reality, then quickly dispatches it before anyone can really register or enjoy (?) it.

However, Anderson does pull out some great voice work. Not the least of which is his own as Bowler Hat Guy. He's funny. As a prissy robot, Harland Williams struggles to not be Martin Short or Robin Williams. Then, out of nowhere, comes Adam West as a superhero-pizza delivery guy. Thank you, Stephen J. Anderson. It doesn't make much sense, but West is funny.

Younger kids are going to love it, especially in Disney 3-D. Anderson only makes a couple of nods to that process, trusting the majority of the film to just storytelling. Okay, so maybe he could have had a couple more 3-D effects. As it is, the cool factor almost covers the desperation to find a center.


Derek McCaw

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