by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Our continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries are also included below.

Title: Meet The Robinsons (2007; based on the book A Day With Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce)

The Plot: A 12-year-old orphan with a knack for invention is whisked away on a time-travelling adventure, during which he meets wacky new characters and attempts to correct the mistakes of his past.

The Songs: "Another Believer" (performed by Rufus Wainwright), "Where Is Your Heart At?" and "Give Me The Simple Life" (performed by Jamie Cullum), "Little Wonders" (performed by Rob Thomas), "The Future Has Arrived" (performed by The All-American Rejects), "The Motion Waltz (Emotional Commotion)" (performed by Rufus Wainwright)

A Little History: Disney's first feature under their new Animation Studios banner originally began as a live-action project, until it was decided to adapt William Joyce's A Day With Wilbur Robinson using 3D computer technology instead. Director Stephen J. Anderson worked as a story supervisor for The Emperor's New Groove (2000) and Brother Bear (2003). As a child of adoption himself, he lobbied hard for the director's chair after reading Robinsons' initial screenplay, identifying with its themes of abandonment and the need to belong. The filmmakers used a process called a "Depth Script" to map out entire sequences for the film before converting them to 3D. The look of the movie was inspired by the "Streamline Moderne" industrial movement of the '30s and '40s, characteristics of which include horizontal orientation, smooth exterior surfaces and subdued colors. Anderson and art director Robh Ruppel also designed four distinct looks for their Past, Present and Future settings: the Past, for instance, is shot in monochrome, the Present is filled with rectangular edges and angles, and its Good Future/Evil Future is alternately soft, rounded and grim and grimy. Animation Supervisor Michael Belzer and his team of 60+ animators worked for three years to create lifelike human beings onscreen, right down to the wrinkles in their clothing. Director Anderson also provides the voice for the vaudevillian Bowler Hat Guy, after Jim Carrey turned down the part; a joke about Wilbur's dad looking like Tom Selleck is even funnier once you realize that Selleck actually voices the character in a later scene. Though supportive of the project, John Lasseter, Disney's Chief Creative Officer (promoted to that position after the company's $7.4 acquisition of Pixar), was shown a rough cut of Meet The Robinsons in March of 2006 but felt that the second act lacked punch. As a result, 60% of the film was scrapped and started over from scratch. Meet The Robinsons opened on March 30, 2007, and grossed $169,333,034 worldwide - the fourth most popular animated title of that year, after Ratatouille, Shrek The Third and The Simpsons Movie. The film played on over 600 Disney Digital 3D screens; only the names of the crew members who converted the film to 3D were presented in this format (the rest were presented in 2D). HIDDEN MICKEYS: The circular modules that make up the Insta-Building platforms form a pair of Mickey Mouse ears (see also the Robinsons' double-R topiary and Uncle Gaston's stopwatch, among others.) The elementary school Lewis attends is named after author William Joyce; likewise, the Anderson Observatory at the end of the film takes its name from director Stephen J. Anderson.

How It Broke New Ground: The first film to feature the new Walt Disney Animation Studios logo (with an excerpt from "Steamboat Willie," the first Mickey Mouse cartoon with synchronized sound). Walt Disney Feature Animation had wanted to establish themselves as an in-house production company separate from Pixar.

How It Holds Up Today: If Chicken Little was any indication, Disney seemed destined to copy the In-Jokes And Pop Culture References First, Story Second (If At All) aesthetic that made DreamWorks Animation so popular at the box office. Not so, says director Stephen Anderson, whose own personal upbringing as an orphan infuses Disney's 47th Animated Classic (their second to be fully computer-generated) with a sharp observational focus that's missing from much of the Mouse House's creative output. Of course, it helps that Pixar guru John Lasseter had a hand in shaping the final story, adding new characters and revamping the ending, and that the film's futuristic landscapes look so bubbly and bright (based on a popular children's book by William Joyce, of Robots and Rolie Polie Olie fame). The Robinsons are a quirky bunch, all right, but no more so than the rest of our families, and despite some occasional silliness (talking dinosaurs, lounge-singing frogs, a Back To The Future-type plot with all the time-travel paradoxes that entails), the movie actually teaches a lesson or two about finding your place in this world, and the importance of taking responsibility for your actions. Too bad the point was lost on so many critics, who blindly believed that Disney no longer had what it took to keep moving forward.

Grade: B+


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