A Retrospective Look at Meet the Robinsons
By Craig Barton
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
Lewis doesn’t want to look forward. He was left on an orphanage doorstep as a baby. He’s been rejected by multiple sets of prospective parents (that seem to have all been put off by his quirky sense of genius and failed inventions). After nearly 13 years without a family, he is convinced that the only one who could ever truly love him is the mother he never really knew. After his latest failed meeting with potential new parents goes awry, Lewis decides to take matters into his own hands with his latest invention – a memory scanner that can help him trace his memories back to the woman who left him so long ago. If he doesn’t drive Michael “Goob” Yagoobian, his roommate, crazy from working all hours of the day and night, and if he doesn’t cause an explosion this time, he might not only find his birth mother, but he might win the school science fair with this invention as well! Of course, a sinister man with a robotic bowler hat may have something to say about that. When Bowler Hat Guy’s interference causes the project to go haywire, Lewis is ready to give up on ever finding happiness. That’s when self-proclaimed “timecop” Wilbur Robinson arrives from the future to help Lewis set things straight. Of course, Wilbur isn’t really a timecop, nor is he forthcoming with his real reason for traveling to the past to seek out Lewis. As Lewis travels to the future to help Wilbur, he meets the beyond-quirky extended Robinson clan in a Utopian future setting full of instant-grow buildings, travel bubbles, and a cleverly themed blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “Todayland” park (catching many a DisNerd’s eye for nostalgia with Space Mountain and the 1967 version of Disneyland’s Rocket Jets)!
Why did Wilbur bring Lewis into the future? Why is Bowler Hat Guy after Lewis himself? Will Lewis ever find the mother he left behind or a new family that he’s given up hope on finding? Will any of his inventions ever work? Why DID Bowler Hat Guy not think about the T-Rex’s large head and tiny arms? These are questions that are all answered in Disney’s 2007 animated feature Meet the Robinsons, a movie that in this author’s opinion is too often overlooked in the Disney universe.
The mid-2000’s were an interesting and trying time for Disney. Trying, because it seemed a lot of what they tried wasn’t quite working. The two newest releases from the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Home on the Range (2004) and Chicken Little (2005) were viewed as neither box office nor critical successes. Other animated movies, such as Valiant (2005) and The Wild (2006) were distributed and released by Disney, but made by other studios; they didn’t fare so well themselves. Pixar definitely ruled the roost of animated features, and Disney was not quite the powerhouse they used to be. Meet the Robinsons, a film based on the children’s picture book “A Day With Wilbur Robinson,” by William Joyce, was slated for release in 2006. In early 2006, Disney acquired Pixar, with John Lassetter entering the scene as Chief Creative Officer for both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. Under his guidance, much of Meet the Robinsons was reworked, and a new release of 2007 was scheduled. Perhaps due to the disarray and less than stellar track record, the film seemed to be less-than-highly anticipated. I remember, however, having conversations with quite a few like-minded friends, with talk revolving about how good and inspiring the movie really was. Upon my personal viewing, I fell in love with the central message of moving forward, along with some very fun scenes and a great score by Danny Elfman. It quickly became one of my favorite recent Disney movies. However, it seemed to not be discussed much outside of those Disney circles, unlike movies such as Tangled and Frozen, which would be broader hits a few years later.
I recently revisited the Robinsons, and upon viewing, I’ve realized unlike many movies that age a year after they’ve been made, this one has held up rather nicely after ten years. Perhaps it’s because the humor in the movie is more quirky than topical (well, there is a running Tom Selleck gag, but is wonderfully placed), but I found myself smiling even more that I did the first time I watched. Beyond that, there are so many great messages relayed in what is viewed as a “kids movie.” There’s an underlying theme of moving forward and not looking backward (hence the Walt Disney quote at the outset of this article). There are also lessons in the bonds of family, whether through blood or otherwise, as well as the importance of friendship and respect of others.
What makes this movie really pull at my heartstrings is the acceptance the Robinson family has for outcast Lewis. He’s never really seemed to fit in. He’s not into sports like Goob. He’s a science nerd, an inventor – but an inventor without a successful invention. He wants a family to love him, but he wants them to love WHO HE IS. He finds this in the Robinsons. They’re all unique individuals with their own interests, but they’re a large and cohesive extensive family that loves each other. Even better? They embrace failure. Failure means you tried. Failure means you can keep moving forward, that you don’t have to dwell on the past. Lewis has upset by failure, but here is a family that sees a great achievement in said feeling. As someone who often struggles with a fear of failure while attempting to remain himself in a big world, this struck quite a chord with me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
Here’s to you, Meet the Robinsons. Thank you for telling a great story while inspiring many of us to move forward. If you have yet to see this gem of an animated feature, by all means, take a couple hours and give it a go. And if you have seen it, revisiting the Robinsons is highly recommended! I only hope it inspires others as much as it does me.