One day geeks may indeed rule the world, if they don’t already, that is, and when they do, we could do worse that the scenario presented in MEET THE ROBINSONS. Much worse. Based on the book, “A Day with the Robinsons” by William Joyce, this gentle tale of family lost and found is a wild ride fueled by imagination and the wonders of technology. That would be wonders both good and bad, which is why there’s a little bite to all this sweetness.
The geek in question is Louis, a plucky orphan with boundless intelligence, the imagination to make it a force to be reckoned with, and pale hair that is in a perpetually startled state above his owl-like glasses. Like all children, he is special, but his particular brand of specialness has a way of scaring prospective parents. This is why he’s had 124 interviews with prospective adopters and no takers, even when he’s not showing off his latest invention, a machine that takes the guesswork out of portion control when making peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Let’s just say there were a few more bugs to be worked out before doing a demonstration in front of innocent bystanders. Disheartened at the prospect of facing his teenage years still an orphan, he comes up with a plan to track down his birth mother who left him on the orphanage’s doorstep when he was a baby before disappearing into the night. The plan involves a brain scanner and the memory in his head of the one time he saw her when he was a newborn. Scrounging, research, and round-the-clock pondering, much to the sleep-deprived chagrin of his perpetually exhausted roommate, Goob, he comes up with a working model. Unfortunately, he also becomes the target of a mysterious man in a bowler hat, and of Wilbur Robinson, a kid who claims he’s from the future sent to save him from the man and his hat, which turns out to be the brains behind the man’s schemes.
As it turns out, The Man in the Bowler Hat is not doing homage to Magritte. Rather, he’s a nefarious character with a spindly figure in a cape and shoes that curl up to points on the end, a wardrobe choice that renders him a sentient arabesque , but one roiling with evil intent but sadly lacking the brainpower to act on it. Fortunately for him, his bowler hat does. Her name is Doris and even without the scuttling capabilities, or the flying ones, or the robot arms with the nasty sharp blades that emerge from her tidy brim, she would probably still be in charge of the operation. And as for Wilbur Robinson, a fast-talker whose non-reply to almost everything is “that’s a good question,” he really is from the future, which he proves by taking Lewis there and inadvertently having his family bond with the boy from the past who bonds with them as well.
It’s almost an afterthought that the film is in 3-D, which comes to life thanks to the special glasses Disney provides. The lenses are dark, rather than one red and one blue as with most 3-D process, and he effect is just dazzling, especially for things such as peanut butter explosions and amoral flying hats. The 3-D is integrated into the story, rather than being the story, which focuses on the wacky characters and Lewis’ longing to belong somewhere. Wilbur’s family is a hodgepodge of everything a kid would love, brought to irresistible animated life. There’s the house the size of the Smithsonian, surrounded by topiary tea parties and tended by a chummy, if hapless, robot named Carl. In it dwell an uncle who confuses his role as a pizza-delivery guy with being a super hero (brilliant voice casting of Adam West), an aunt whose toy trains are life-sized, a father who invents time machines, and mother who has dedicated her life to realizing the innate musicality of frogs, among others. And those frogs. They’re slick hipsters with cool vibes, the soul of Sinatra and a few of his moves as well. It’s all rendered in cake-frosting colors and a distinctly post-modern 50s aesthetic of monumental hairdos with angular art design that extends to clothing and to the modeling, which gives the characters heft in much the same way as the writing gives them spark.
MEET THE ROBINSONS is a warm-hearted film that slyly teaches cause-and-effect, mechanical and other, as well as making thinking outside the box positively heroic. Executed with a whimsical light touch and loads of heart, it’s character-centric rather than slapstick, and completely charming.