Friday, 30 March 2007

Meet the Robinsons – Review by Robert Duffin

Director: Stephen J Anderson
Screenwriter: Jon Bernstein and Robert L. Baird
Runtime: 102 minutes
Certificate: U
Release Date: 30th March

Meet the Robinsons, the new CGI animation from Disney sans Pixar, will prove to be more historically than artistically significant. When Disney bought Pixar Studios last year many feared the worst; they would surely devour the quirky and creative animators into the artistic void of their conglomerate. Yet the opposite, at least on the surface, is happening and Pixar’s creative director John Lasseter has become head of their animation department. Thankfully for Disney, what little time he had on this project has paid off.

The story follows Lewis, a technically gifted young inventor who at twelve years old feels he is reaching the end of his orphanage shelf life. After a science fair experiment goes wrong he feels all is lost, until Wilbur Robinson arrives from the future and drags him on a time bending journey to save humanity and maybe even find a family. It’s a bizarre mix of Back to the Future and You Can’t Take It With You, but somehow it works. The titular family are more stereotyped eccentrics than characters but Lewis is a well-rounded and well-written hero. His story gets weepy and sentimental as he learns from mistakes and “keeps moving forward”, but his charm wins out.

The animation lacks the depth of a Pixar or a hand drawn Mayazaki, with backgrounds and characters having a slick plastic sheen to them. Textures such as fabric, hair, and skin are poorly rendered and suffer under the films perma-day lighting. Yet the space-time hopping narrative keeps you on your toes and a few, albeit telegraphed, plot twists are well handled. You’ll also find one of Disney’s better modern villains in Bowler Hat Guy, a spindly-legged devil with bad teeth and a pencil moustache. Even more refreshing is the lack of celebrity voices; specialist voice artists bring every main character to life and do so with aplomb. There is also an abundance of good gags for savvier adults including the Rat Pack gangster frogs who even get their own Tarantino car boot perspective hostage scene. Similarly fun is the Shaw Brothers aping dinner table sequence, complete with faux scratchy film stock and badly dubbed dialogue.

Meet the Robinsons isn’t up there with the greatest animated movies, but it is easily the best film Disney has solely produced in recent years. It may be the muddled product of a company in transition but it is a positive sign for the future. Coupled with the announcement that John Lasseter has re-hired 400 traditional animators back to the company to work on a new hand drawn film, things are looking up at the House of Mouse.

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