When we were kids, Disney cartoons were entertaining as long as there were songs, lessons to learn and some subliminal, sexual message (which, in “The Little Mermaid,” may or may not have been the priest’s knee). But now that today’s kids play with Baby Einstein laptops and coloring books that talk, so their movies have also become increasingly complicated. Disney’s latest, “Meet the Robinsons,” is a prime example. Luckily, Disney still knows what works.
Like any other animated feature, the movie opens on a kid-protagonist who’s as brainy as he is sweet. But Lewis, an orphan, has a bit of a problem. Audiences may love a child inventor, but his proclivity for producing flawed, accident-prone inventions actually scares away all the potential parents. Fearing he’ll never be adopted, Lewis proactively decides to find his real family, and to the end invents a machine to access suppressed memories that will identify his birthmother.
Enter Wilbur, a strange 13-year-old from the future. Hoping to stop a catastrophe that will alter time itself (yep, keep up), he takes Lewis to the future where Lewis meets the Robinsons, the family for whom he’s been searching.
And so the temporal adventure begins. We’re introduced to Wilbur’s world in a series of sequences that would compliment an acid trip, zigzagging through colored pipes and special rooms featuring one Robinson family member after the other (each one crazier than the last), all the while interspersed with snippets of singing frogs.
Needless to say, there is a villain (the creatively named “Bowler-Hat Guy”) who is out to destroy Lewis’s past and future with the help of an autonomous robotic bowler hat. Of course, he must be stopped. And since this is a film with a heavy focus on time travel, you can be sure the future bends back on the past, which creates a different present, which creates a different future and so-on and so-forth until the end finally answers all questions.
This is a movie that can only pleasantly surprise. Jokes range from suited frogs modeled after the hip jazz-band members from “Back to the Future” to more subtle bits of humor that appeal to older audiences. Don’t forget the now-cult-like image of a Dinosaur bilingually complaining about the proportions of his arms and head (if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t even bother trying to understand). The film is earnest enough that even the most cynical of students can find themselves loving the warm-hearted Robinson family and the optimistic, innovative nature of Disney’s Tomorrow Land.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.