Meet the Robinsons Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Meet the Robinsons Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Meet the Robinsons
Source materials : Based on A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce
Budget: $150 million
Box office: $169.3 million
Plot: Lewis is an aspiring 12-year-old inventor at an orphanage whose inventions have been scaring off potential parents. He works all night on a machine to scan his memory to locate his mother, who abandoned him at the orphanage when he was a baby.
While taking the scanner to his school’s science fair, Lewis meets 13-year-old Wilbur Robinson, a mysterious boy claiming to be a time cop from the future. Wilbur needs to recover a time machine that a man wearing a bowler hat has stolen. Lewis tries to demonstrate the scanner, but it has been sabotaged and falls apart, throwing the science fair into chaos. Lewis leaves while the Bowler Hat Guy, with the help of a robotic bowler hat named Doris, repairs and steals the scanner.
Wilbur meets Lewis at the orphanage and asks him to repair the scanner. Lewis agrees to do so only if Wilbur can prove he is telling the truth, which Wilbur does by taking them to the year 2037 in a second time machine. When they arrive, he and Wilbur get into an argument and crash. Wilbur asks Lewis to fix the time machine, but Lewis has another condition: Wilbur has to take him to visit his mother afterwards. Reluctantly, Wilbur agrees and hides Lewis in the garage.
Lewis does not stay there for long, however, and ends up meeting the rest of the Robinson family except for Cornelius, Wilbur’s father, who is away on a business trip. Having followed Lewis, the Bowler Hat Guy and Doris try to kidnap him, but the Robinsons beat them back. The Robinsons offer to adopt Lewis, but change their mind when they learn that he is from the past. Wilbur admits to lying to Lewis about taking him back to see his mom, causing Lewis to run off in disgust.
Lewis then discovers that Cornelius Robinson is, in fact, a future version of himself, and Wilbur is his future son. Lewis also finds out that the Bowler Hat Guy is a grown-up version of Lewis’ roommate, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian. Because he was kept awake by Lewis’ work on the scanner, Goob fell asleep during an important Little League game and failed to make an important catch that cost the game. Goob became so bitter as a result that he was never adopted and remained in the orphanage long after it closed. Doris is “DOR-15”, one of Lewis’ failed and abandoned inventions. They both blamed Lewis for their misfortunes and decided to ruin his career by stealing the memory scanner and claiming credit for it.
Leaving Lewis behind, they take off with the scanner, drastically altering the future to a world where Doris’ clones have enslaved humanity. Lewis repairs the second time machine, confronts Doris and destroys her by promising to never invent her, restoring the future to its Utopian self. After persuasion from Lewis, Wilbur tries to ask the adult Goob to join the family, but he has disappeared, apparently ashamed at what he has done.
Back in Wilbur’s time, Lewis finally meets Cornelius face to face. Cornelius explains how the memory scanner started their successful career, and persuades Lewis to return to the science fair. Wilbur takes Lewis back, but makes one stop first: as he promised, he takes Lewis back to the moment when his mother abandoned him. Wilbur drops Lewis off in his own time and leaves. Lewis heads to the fair, but en route wakes up Goob just in time for him to make the winning catch.
Back at the fair, Lewis asks for one more chance to demonstrate his scanner, which this time succeeds. He is adopted by Lucille, one of the science fair judges, and her husband Bud, who nicknames him “Cornelius” and takes him home.
After reading the screenplay, director Stephen J. Anderson actively lobbied to direct this movie. As a child of adoption himself, Anderson personally experienced many of the emotions that Lewis expresses in the film.
In what will have a sweeping effect over the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney acquired Pixar and put Ed Catmull and John Lasseter in charge of both studios. They wanted to keep both studios separate, but to somehow impart Pixar’s success and culture to the older studio. The production started in June of 2004, and was scheduled for a 2006 release, however when Lasseter saw an early screening for the movie, he told director Stephen Anderson that he did not find the villain scary or threatening enough, and suggested that he make some changes.
“They came in, they gave us some notes, we addressed the notes and peeled back to 30% of the animation, which was a lot to redo. It could’ve been demoralizing, but since we were well into the film and knew these characters, we were prepared to beef up certain shots or redo certain sequences.” -animation supervisor Michael Belzer
Lasseter gave them eighteen months to get the film on track.
Changes from the Source Material:
Most of the film is departure from the book. Lewis and Wilbur’s distinctive hairstyles are true to the book’s illustrations as well as the general physical characteristics of the other Robinson characters. In the film Wilbur’s relationship to Lewis is revealed to go beyond that of being his best friend.
“We know that Lewis’ answer lies in the future. Every time he thinks about the past, every time he gets further from his answer, we pull more color out. Every time we go into the past, we pull most of the blues and the higher saturated colors out. The present is in between those worlds, color wise: it’s very warm, it’s nice; we save those blue notes for the future: the blue sky, the bright magentas. In the shape design, we tried to keep the present day very boxy and square. Everything’s on a grid, everything’s a little repetitive, everything’s a little busy. So that when you go to the future, the view is unobstructed, the building shapes are very curved. There’s pleasantness to it.” -art director Robh Ruppel
They use the previously developed Maya program, but developed After Shock, a program designed to animate speed and velocity.
“We knew our movie was going to be less cartoony than Chicken Little and a little more like our world. So we had some different challenges: we had skin texture we had to work out, we had to grow hair off of characters’ heads and we had to find an animation style that was still fun and loose and had some caricature to it, but could portray humans in a believable way.” -director Steve Anderson
Music and Songs: The score was written by Danny Elfmann.
He was the front man for the band Oingo Boingo, and appeared in the movie Back to School. As a composer, he wrote the scores for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, 9, Spider-Man, Oz the Great and Powerful, Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Fifty Shades films. Elfman also provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and the voices of both Barrel and the “Clown with the Tear-Away Face”. He also wrote the theme for The Simpsons. He has four Oscar nominations for the scores of Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Big Fish, and Milk.He has a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for “The Batman Theme” from Batman.
- “Another Believer”- Rufus Wainwright
- “Little Wonders”- Rob Thomas
- “The Future Has Arrived”- The All-American Rejects
- “Where Is Your Heart At?”- (written by Rufus Wainwright) Jamie Cullum
- “The Motion Waltz (Emotional Commotion)”- Rufus Wainwright
- “Give Me the Simple Life”- Jamie Cullum
- “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”- 1 They Might Be Giants
- “Kids of the Future”- Jonas Brothers
Jordan Fry as Lewis. He is known for his role as Mike Teavee in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Tom Selleck as Cornelius. He is known for starring as private investigator Thomas Magnum in the television series Magnum, P.I. He’s also appeared in Three Men and a Baby, Quigley Down Under, Mr. Baseball, Lassiter, Friends, The Rockford Files, and In & Out. Since 2010, he has been a primary cast member as NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods.
Wesley Singerman as Wilbur Robinson.As a record producer, he has worked on releases by Kendrick Lamar, Ty Dolla $ign, and Rich Brian. He voiced Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Valentine, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales and Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown. Harland Williams as Carl Williams. His roles include Dumb and Dumber, Freddy Got Fingered, There’s Something About Mary, Half Baked, RocketMan, Sorority Boys, Down Periscope, and Employee of The Month.
Tom Kenny as Mr. Willerstein. He is best known for voicing the title character in SpongeBob SquarePants. Kenny has voiced many other characters including Heffer Wolfe in Rocko’s Modern Life, the Ice King in Adventure Time, the Narrator and Mayor in The Powerpuff Girls, and Carl Chryniszzswics in Johnny Bravo. Angela Bassett as Mildred. She is best known for her performance as Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won a corresponding Golden Globe Award. She has appeared in Malcolm X, Panther, The Jacksons: An American Dream, Notorious, Betty & Coretta, Green Lantern, Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen, The Score, Akeelah and the Bee, Meet the Browns, Jumping the Broom, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Music of the Heart. In 2018, Bassett began producing and starring in the Fox police drama series 9-1-1, playing LAPD patrol sergeant Athena Grant. The same year she appeared as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther.
Nicole Sullivan as Franny Robinson. She is best known for her six seasons on the sketch comedy series MADtv. She also appeared on The King of Queens, Scrubs, Kim Possible, Family Guy, Rita Rocks, The Penguins of Madagascar, and Cougar Town. Ethan Sandler as DOR-15 (Doris), Uncle Fritz, Aunt Petunia, Spike, Dimitri, Cousin Laszlo, and The CEO of InventCo. He is bestknown for his role of ADA Jeffrey Brandau on the television series Crossing Jordan. He appeared in The Chocolate War, Flushed, and The Enigma with a Stigma.
Don Hall as Uncle Gaston and the Gym Coach. He is a writer at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is known for co-directing Winnie the Pooh, Big Hero 6, and Moana.
Director Steve Anderson voiced Bowler Hat Guy, Grandpa Bud and Cousin Tallulah. Laurie Metcalf returns as Lucille Krunklehorn. Adam West returns as Uncle Art.
Critical Reception: Danny Minton of the Beaumont Journal said that “The Robinsons might not be a family you want to hang out with, but they sure were fun to meet in this imaginative and beautiful 3-D experience”. Kyle Smith of the New York Post named it the 10th best film of 2007.Conversely, A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote: “Meet the Robinsons is surely one of the worst theatrically released animated features issued under the Disney label in quite some time.”
Legacy: DisneyToon Studios originally planned to make a sequel to the film, tentatively titled Meet the Robinsons 2: First Date. However, when John Lasseter became Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new chief creative officer, he called off all future sequels DisneyToon originally planned.
Video games: Disney’s Meet the Robinsons video game is available from Buena Vista Games for PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo DS, and PC.
My take: I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. It was pretty funny, and it has a positive message. It’s about science, and learning from your failures, and not getting discouraged.
I felt it was a little slow to get started, but once it got to the future the story took off. The family is great, they reminded me of the Sycamore family from You Can’t Take It With You. Bowler Hat guy is hilariously inept.
I liked that Lewis defeats Doris in the style of Bill and Ted, and that he takes the time to change Goob’s life for the better. If I had to pick one thing to improve it would be to see more of the future world. I think there would be the potential for a lot of humor there.
Next Week: We head to the kitchen with Ratatouille