Meet the Robinsons turned 15 yesterday.
Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of one of Walt Disney’s most important animated films. It’s no secret that Meet the Robinsons is one of those films that I love more than almost anyone else on the planet, and consider one of the most explicitly underrated Walt Disney toons, especially in recent years. However, in retrospect, in terms of when it was released and what it was all about, it remains a skewed monument of hope through perseverance and the promise of a better future at a time when the studio needed such assurances. At a time when Walt Disney Animation was in the throes of a crisis, while DreamWorks Animation and Pixar were neck and neck in terms of Hollywood animation dominance, Meet the Robinsons was an impassioned call to, well, keep moving forward.
According to William Joyce A day with Will Robinson and featuring mostly voice-over artists (as opposed to celebrity voices with the exception of Angela Bassett and Adam West), the G-Rating is about a young orphan who ends up traveling to the future to meet, well, not of spoilers. This is a story that was neither a fairy tale princess story, nor an animated epic, nor a talking animal comedy. In what seemed strange then and now seems unthinkable, Meet the Robinsons was a new big-budget Walt Disney animated film that opened in theaters almost under the radar. It didn’t have the pomp and comparative circumstances that hosted an annual Pixar outing, nor was it treated as such a big event as the year before. Little chicken (the studio’s first 3-D/CGI toon and frankly an artistic low point).
Like the Pixar films of the time, Meet the Robinsons is about someone who yearns to live dangerously even though simply existing would bring less conflict. It’s the story of a young orphan scientist who needs to be loved by someone… anyone. It spins a dizzying time travel adventure and features an entire futuristic family of wacky but grounded human beings. It delivers laughs both through character interaction (young “Goob’s” encounter with the devilish Bowler Hat Guy is pretty wonderful) and by applying logic to its wacky storylines (“But I don’t need ‘a duck …”). The middle act contains most of the frenetic action, the first act stares unblinkingly at the pain of the orphanage, and the third act is all about the therapeutic power of forgiveness and overcoming the bad cards life throws at you.
Meet the Robinsons is not a princess fairy tale or a talking animal.
Our hero is Lewis (Daniel Hansen), a young orphan who discovers the future and makes peace with his past to embrace a possible happy ending. In terms of ideas and revelations, Meet the Robinsons does an interesting double bill with Pixar At the top. While At the top is about a suicidal old man who discovers he still has something to live for at the end of his life, Meet the Robinsons is about a young man desperately trying not to give up as he deals with one disappointment after another in the early years of his life. The fast-paced 94-minute film resolves its plot satisfyingly, rooted in the time-traveling semantics of its story and Lewis’ inherent intelligence. It’s funny and undeniably clever, while still being consistent for the youngest of viewers.
The Bowler Hat Guy, introduced as the evil clown (voiced by director Stephen J. Anderson), becomes the film’s most likable character, a bitter man who can’t let go of a perceived wrong done many years ago. It’s given a final moment of incredible grief and pathos, a moment that would probably play even better today when every great movie claims to be about trauma, grief and toxic reactions to real tragedy. Although he primarily plays jester foil, Bowler Hat Guy becomes one of the most complex and three-dimensional villains in the Disney library. At a time when Disney has mostly traded in larger-than-life villains for subtextual screeds about compassion and forgiveness (see: Encanto, Raya and the Last Dragon, Frozen II), Meet the Robinsons has his cake and eats it too.
Meet the Robinsons also contains one of the greatest animated epilogues of all time; a moving and emotionally wrenching montage of Rob Thomas’ “Little Wonders”. In March 2007 it was a claim (months after finding out I was about to be a father) that there was a possible pot of gold at the end of a terrifying rainbow . It retroactively became a celebration of Walt Disney’s re-emergence as an animation giant. Meet the Robinsons comes as a darkest pre-dawn statement that Walt Disney Animation only needed to keep moving forward. It would rightly happen a year later Little chicken and a year before the slow recovery (Bolt, the princess and the frog, Tangledetc.) which will culminate with the blockbuster release ($1.276 billion worldwide) of Frozen and the re-emergence of Disney as the powerhouse defining the zeitgeist.
Meet the Robinsons put Disney back on the path to its Frozen-era bustling resurgence.
“Keep Moving Forward” is the motto of Mr. Robinson, the patriarch of the futuristic clan. The origin of this phrase provides a nice grace note at the very end of the image, a note that is oddly appropriate for the time it was in. Although the film was not a box office success (169 million on a $150 million budget), it has gained a cult following over the past 15 years in part because of the scant attention it garnered upon its initial release. fitting into the mold of a then-or-now Disney toon and not being a theatrical success went hand-in-hand with its themes (before their time) about the value of taking risks and the importance of failure. Today, Disney seems too big to risk failing, but I digress.
Yes, unfortunately the film’s positive legacy is (arguably) discolored by the choices Disney has made with its recent monopoly power as an entertainment company and cultural force. Moreover, the last two years have shown constant evidence that making the right choices is not enough for a happy ending. Nevertheless, the film is the film and Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall Meet the Robinsons remains one of Disney’s most underrated gems. It remains a sci-fi fantasy comedy that never loses sight of the pain at its heart while remaining filled with moments of unexpected goodness. Its exit was either ironic or appropriate as the latest speed bump on Disney Animation’s path to creative and business renewal. The way to Frozen starts with Meet the Robinsons.
Meet the Robinsons is not the most monetized of modern Disney movies. The Lewis and Bowler Hat Guy merchandise didn’t fly off the shelves and there was (thankfully?) never a straight-to-DVD sequel despite initial plans for it. It’s the very definition of, to quote that other Disney animated feature, a diamond in the rough. I would say that imagination and reflection Meet him Robinsons is quite worth the “Disney Classic” tag as the likes of The Lion King Where Moana. Plus, in terms of story, moral, and heartbreaking optimism, this was the movie Disney needed when it needed it. Of course, one of the main reasons I love the movie so much is that it was also the movie I needed when I needed it.