Well, I made a mistake and accidentally wrote these posts of out order. This was meant to come before my previous post on Bolt, but alas, I’m a dummy and reversed these two movies. Oh well, it may actually work in my favor, given what I want to talk about today…
Meet the Robinsons was the first Disney film in what felt like a very long time that I actually genuinely enjoyed. In reality, it had only been a mere 5 years since I fell in love with Lilo and Stitch, but somehow those 5 years felt like a lifetime. When I finally saw Meet the Robinsons, I felt as though Disney had finally found its voice again. There had been plenty of memorable Pixar films released in that time, but as my previous posts outline, Disney’s films were a bit lackluster, to say the least. Meet the Robinsons, at least for me, was a turning point.
The film tells the story of young Lewis, an orphaned boy fascinated by science who spends his time dreaming up inventions. After a particulatly disasterous showing at the school science fair, Lewis is whisked away to the future by Wilbur Robinson, informed that he is the only person who can help stop the evil “bowler hat guy”. What transpires after this is equal parts absurdity and heart. There are a handful of “reveals” throughout the film that I won’t spoil here, partially because I don’t want to give it away and partially because it’s a bit too elaborate to accurately summarize. Without revealing too much, let’s just say that a dinosaur, singing frogs, and a meatball cannon are all involved.
This film is silly. There are numerous points that feel downright ludicrous and completely out of touch with reality. Why then do I consider this a great example of a Disney film? Because despite all of this, Disney manages to keep the film grounded. Yes, there are fantastical elements, including time travel and sentient robots, and there are plenty of absurd elements that don’t scream “Disney”. Even so, the heart of this film is about a young boy’s search for a family to call his own, and Disney keeps the tone light while never letting you forget that key plot point.
I’ve found that this balance is key to any great Disney film. Aladdin has incredibly light-hearted, funny moments (mostly due to the genius that was Robin Williams), but at its heart there is a lesson about chasing your dreams and fighting for what you want in life. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King each have characters who serve as comedic relief, but each respective film still has darker, more serious elements. These not only make it more appealing to adult viewers, but to children as well, not bothering to pander to a younger audience but instead treating children with the respect and understanding that they can comprehend these deeper elements, at least on some level.
In addition to the overall tone, Meet the Robinsons surpasses its successor Bolt by being silly, but being earnest in its silliness. Bolt was too self-conscious for its own good, poking fun at a character who would believe that magic powers were real. Meet the Robinsons may switch out “magic” for “science”, but the same basic principle is at work. The movie embraces its humorous and extraordinary elements, never apologizing for depicting something that may not fit into our “rational” world. I find this to be far more endearing than watching Disney self-consciously stumble through a film as they worry that the magic we all loved as children isn’t catchy enough for today’s youth.
Meet the Robinsons is not a perfect film, but it is far better than many Disney churned out in this period. Again, perhaps I’m biased, and am simply holding all films to the gold standard of the Disney heyday of my youth. Surely no future Disney movies could ever live up to my childhood nostalgia? Probably not, but Meet the Robinsons does a great job of trying, and appreciate the ability to prolong my childhood by even the briefest of moments.