MEET THE ROBINSONS is a whiz-bang terrific flight of fancy that is a paean to both the creative impulse that drives inventors, and the boundless optimism that keeps them going in the face of long odds and the skepticism of their less imaginative fellow creatures. Thinking so far outside the box that its very existence is more a philosophical construct than an actual container is Lewis, a spaghetti-haired, bespectacled orphan in search of a family. Alas, Lewis is is a little too lively, in the intellectual sense, for any of the dozens and dozens of prospective parents to whom he is proffered by his orphanage. But his wish is about to come true, in a way that is as delightfully off-kilter as Louis’ inventions. Brought to life with humor that is gentle, but with a whiff of anarchy, with art design that is whimsy made manifest, Lewis’ adventures in the future with the eponymous Robinsons are more than a chance for robot jokes and intergalactic pizza-delivery guys. It’s heartwarming while never stooping to cheap sentimentality.
The nice part about the bonus features is that the deleted scene section features director Stephen Anderson explaining why things were left out. It’s a hands-on lesson in plot construction, pacing, and the wonders of the DVD extras. Not all the scenes are finished. They ranged from quick sketch to completely finished, so it’s also a nifty look at the various stages animation goes through before being screen-ready. It’s interesting to note that the spark that brings ink to life is there from the start, the rest is embellishment. He also starts the audio commentary track by warning the listener that if they haven’t seen the film yet, they need to stop listening so that they can avoid spoilers and other secrets best left to later.
In “Inventing the Robinsons” we learn that the book on which the film was based, “An Afternoon with Wilbur Robinson” by Bill Joyce, freely incorporated Joyce’s family members and his own whimsical brand of humor. Anderson talks about how getting this project off the ground was different from the way other Disney films got the green light. More poignantly, he talks about how his experience being adopted gave him insight into Lewis’ burning curiosity about his birth mother. Joe Moeshier the designer talks about the process of imagining a whole world, and of injecting a family member of his own into the mix.
The best of the bunch, though, is “Keep Moving Forward: Inventions That Shaped the World,” which is a puckish, not to mention inspiring, survey of great inventions down the ages, from the wheel, to glass, to the printing press, to Edison. There’s even a surprising debunking involved that blows the lid off the role public relations played during the Renaissance. If the featurette ends with Walt Disney being touted as one of the finest inventors of all time, well, he did give the world Jiminy Cricket and that spinning teacup ride at Disneyland.
MEET THE ROBINSONS is funny, smart, and deliciously eccentric. It also turns the nerd into a credible hero that can’t help but shift a few paradigms among it viewers old and young.