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Meet the Robinsons DVD Review

Meet the Robinsons (2007) movie poster Meet the Robinsons

Theatrical Release: March 30, 2007 / Running Time: 94 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Stephen Anderson

Voice Cast: Daniel Hansen (Lewis), Jordan Fry (Lewis), Wesley Singerman (Wilbur Robinson), Stephen John Anderson (Bowler Hat Guy, Grandpa Bud, Tallulah), Harland Williams (Carl), Nicole Sullivan (Franny Robinson), Angela Bassett (Mildred), Matthew Josten (Michael "Goob" Yagoobian), Tom Kenny (Mr. Willerstein), Laurie Metcalf (Lucille Krunklehorn), Tom Selleck (Cornelius Robinson), Adam West (Uncle Art), Don Hall (Coach, Gaston), Ethan Sandler (Doris, CEO, Fritz, Laszlo, Petunia, Spike, Dmitri), Aurian Redson (Frankie), Joe Mateo (T-Rex), Paul Butcher (Stanley), Tracey Miller-Zarneke (Lizzy)

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"I will make of you another believer" proclaims the first song heard in Meet the Robinsons and though it's talking about bigger things, it could be addressing those who have come to question the quality of Walt Disney Feature Animation in recent years. Robinsons may not be the instant masterpiece that Disney seemed to be churning out on a near-annual basis not too long ago, but this fun CGI adventure is easily the most entertaining in-house animated feature in a little while.

After 2005's Chicken Little made it look like the longtime master of animation had reduced itself to imitating pupils whose near-sighted styles brought them quick cash,
Meet the Robinsons restores some of the Disney studio's confidence in storytelling. It tells the tale of Lewis, a brilliant and bespectacled 12-year-old orphan who isn't having much luck in getting adopted. Lewis works around the clock to perfect his Memory Scanner, a device he hopes will help him remember his mother in an effort to reconnect with her. The science fair at which the invention is to be showcased goes awry, but there are greater things afoot than the couple of loose screws that cause the Scanner's undoing.

Lewis is contacted by 13-year-old Wilbur Robinson, a pointy-haired boy (dressed in a shirt that looks like a rotated Touchstone logo) who claims to be from the future. That is exactly where Lewis is whisked away in an airborne time machine which Wilbur pilots through a bright, exciting landscape that paints an optimistic look of what's to come. Flying cars, evocative architecture, people in bubbles, and explosions of color all enchant Lewis in direct contrast to the world he's used to.

Twelve-year-old foster child Lewis is eager to impress prospective parents, though over 100 couples have already passed on adopting the orphan boy. Wilbur Robinson and Lewis have their first shared time machine ride end less than gracefully.

Lewis and Wilbur's destination is the home of Wilbur's family in the year 2037. There, both Lewis and viewers are introduced to the large and very quirky clan of the title. The movie's busy middle third showcases such oddities as Grandpa Bud, who borrows his fashion sense from Kris Kross (i.e. dresses backwards); Rat Pack-type lounge singers who happen to be frogs; an intergalactic "superhero" who serves the universe by delivering pizzas; and identical twins who compete for rings of the doorbell closer to them.

Hectic to say the least, these center sequences do a little to derail the movie and its plot. Yet, they're just about the only thing the movie takes from its credited source, William Joyce's 1990 picture book A Day with Wilbur Robinson. One almost wonders why Disney would even bother considering the film an adaptation of the 32-page book or staying true to it in its middle, but there are benefits to a connotation with Joyce, whose past credits include BlueSky's Robots, Playhouse Disney's "Rolie Polie Olie", and early development work on Pixar's first two films. And though he appears to have been a part of the production, the author can't take the blame for how his straightforward futuristic trip became a fast-paced barrage of visual gags that largely fall flat.

Meet the Robinsons rebounds from its weak second act with an excellent third one. If the movie momentarily loses sight of its plot (something that's not completely true), it certainly regains it, packing a whole lot of story for a G-rated cartoon. There are revelations to be made, conundrums to be addressed, and a bit of exploration of what happens when you mess with time travel. It all may seem a bit vague and haphazard on a first viewing, but a return trip illustrates how various elements mesh together and strengthens one's perception of the movie.

Claiming much of our attention apart from the two boys' efforts is a lanky Snidely Whiplash-like villain cheesily known as the Bowler Hat Guy. He and his hat, who is named Doris and communicates like R2D2, have insidious plans and a stolen time machine of their own. Though the scatterbrained Bowler Hat Guy isn't quite as funny as the movie believes him to be, his pursuits provide some laughs and he is revealed to have some depth.

The large, quirky, and friendly Robinson family opens up to Lewis on his day spent with them. The movie's villain, Bowler Hat Guy, tries to take credit for the Memory Scanner that Lewis invented.

While the lacking middle half-hour keeps Meet the Robinsons from being a universal success, Disney's second all-CGI cartoon feature can still be considered a triumph.

The film is refreshingly different from other computer-animated films, something we're starting to see this year after a one-track, CGI-packed 2006. Here, talking animals are kept to a minimum and jokes aren't too often aimed either directly at young viewers or their older company. One can't link the film's methods to those of another animation department, not even Pixar, whose Disney-acquired brain trust reportedly helped sharpen the film late in production.

Visually and musically, Robinsons is quite appealing, boasting pleasant stylized designs, fluid human characters, some choice pop tunes, and a nice score by Danny Elfman (avoiding the macabre in his first animated flick not involving Tim Burton). The film unveils a new Walt Disney Animation Studios logo featuring Mickey Mouse in his pioneering debut Steamboat Willie. It's a touch that will be appreciated by those who recognize the long tradition of Disney animation. Though the same audience seems to be targeted by a movie-closing quote attributed to Walt Disney, it mildly cheapens the film's conclusion, shifting the final moment of audience captivity from the featured story to a company philosophy that seems to rationalize making computer-animated movies. If anywhere, it ought to have gone at the end of the end credits.

In theaters, Meet the Robinsons proved to be a moderate success, falling just shy of the $100 million mark domestically. Ignoring inflation, the $97 million gross puts it in the same league as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, the mid-'90s films which brought the studio's summer earnings down from the colossal heights of The Lion King and the lesser ones of Pocahontas. In comparison to more recent Disney-animated works, the tally puts Robinsons in a second tier all its own, handily below Lilo & Stitch, Dinosaur, and Chicken Little; a bit above Brother Bear and Atlantis: The Lost Empire; and way above Home on the Range and Treasure Planet. Compared to 2007's animated cinema on the whole, Meet the Robinsons's box office performance looks a little more impressive; only Pixar's more-pushed Ratatouille and pre-built audience fare Shrek the Third and The Simpsons Movie have earned more in a year that's continued the previous' trend of lower CGI film grosses.

Meet the Robinsons arrives on DVD later in October, nearly seven full months since opening in theaters, a length that's unusual today but allows Disney to drop the film near the start of the heavy holiday shopping season. Though a considerable number of Robinsons' theatrical exhibitions were in the Disney Digital 3-D format, home video has yet to recreate that experience and so the movie comes to DVD and Blu-ray exclusively in a standard, glasses-free version.

Buy Meet the Robinsons on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 23, 2007
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase with in an Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


As a film which went from digital file to digital file, there's little surprise that Meet the Robinsons looks absolutely terrific on DVD. While making use of every pixel on increasingly common 16x9 displays, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer offers plenty of vibrant eye candy. Not having to compete with many bonus features for space, the movie boasts a high digital bit rate and widely eschews anything that could be labeled as a shortcoming. It's precisely as the filmmakers intended it to be and that is impressive.

Though perhaps lacking the impact of a DTS presentation, the included Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does a nice job of reproducing the movie's pleasing aural elements. There's a nice Danny Elfman score, enjoyable vocal songs composed for the film, and an array of effective Foley noises to convey the past and present settings. The last of those three is also enjoyed in an unannounced bonus covered below.

Bowler Hat Guy tries to get the attention of sleeping outfield Michael "Goob" Yagoobian in this deleted scene. You might say the Rob Thomas is singin' in the rain in his music video for "Little Wonders." The family tree game Family Function 5000 tests how closely you followed the wild middle portions of the film.


Bonus Features begin with a trio of short deleted scenes (7:09) which are each introduced by director Stephen Anderson. Mostly fully-animated (a few shots lack color and a few others are seen as storyboards), the scenes would be more accurately labeled alternates than altogether deletions. They depict a different discussion between Lewis and Wilbur upon arriving in the future, a more exciting first meeting of Lewis and Carl, and an alternate ending-ish sequence in which the Bowler Hat Guy takes fate into his own hands.
The simultaneously-released Blu-ray Disc version of the movie provides an unspecified number of deleted scenes in addition to those found here. The DVD has room for more, but this wouldn't be the first time that Disney's held back to make the more expensive high-definition format look better (see Cars). That lame kind of stunt wasn't needed to convince people to upgrade to DVD, which customers seem far more reluctant to leave behind than BVHE.

As usual, Music & More provides only the former, supplying two music videos that each mix footage of the performers with Meet the Robinsons clips. In his heavily-played radio hit "Little Wonders" (3:55), Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas sings in the rain and plays guitar on a rooftop in the wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In "Kids of the Future" (3:20), Radio Disney faves the Jonas Brothers perform their retooled cover of Kim Wilde's early '80s hit "Kids in America" in an enthused concert setting. As far as collisions between Disney movies and pop music go, these two are good and tolerable, respectively.

The lone inclusion under the Games & Activities header is "Family Function 5000: Family Tree Game", a set-top activity which quizzes players on all the Robinson family members. It's quite challenging, especially if you didn't just watch the movie or pay close attention to the hectic central scenes. You start with just a 1 in 14 chance of guessing right, the provided "clues" are little help, and three wrong answers mean you lose. There are four levels and they make sense in retrospect, getting easier as you progress. Not too frustrating and not too easy, it's about as much you can ask for in a DVD game, except your only reward is some virtual confetti. (Blu-ray offers the Bowler Hat Barrage! Game in addition to this one.)

As the director, a writer, and multi-role voice cast member, Stephen Anderson is as qualified as anyone to talk about "Meet the Robinsons", which he does in the commentary, featurette, and deleted scenes introductions. In a featurette on world-shaping inventions, Disney can't help but include a little self-love, highlighting the 1982 opening of EPCOT alongside discoveries like fire, the wheel, and flight. The future truly has arrived today with this appropriate animated main menu.

The last listing, Backstage Disney, gives us the behind-the-scenes content, beginning with "Inventing the Robinsons" (17:55),
a general production featurette that covers the film's development, themes, design, voice cast, and music. It's not as in-depth as one would like and it's expectedly glossy, revealing a few interesting tidbits but mostly just allowing upbeat sound bites from an appropriately expansive group of interview subjects to talk up the film.

"Keep Moving Forward: Inventions That Shaped the World" (6:20) lives up to its title as a kid-oriented educational featurette on breakthrough discoveries. It benefits from a liberal use of clips from past and present Disney cartoons and even more than Robinsons itself, it concludes feeling like a shameless company promo.

Director Stephen Anderson provides an audio commentary on the film. He shares lots of information on the 4-year production period, pointing out various development issues and revisions that occurred. Alas, he's kind of a dry speaker, making it easy for your mind to wander. At four points in the track, Bowler Hat Guy "cracks the signal" and briefly takes over the discussion. It's a gimmick, to be sure, and one which doesn't make too much sense; those expecting a real commentary won't appreciate it and those looking only to be entertained won't be treated to that. The track would have benefited from having a couple of more speakers, but it still beats no commentary (which too many Disney films have been) and lends lots of insight on the making of Robinsons.

Finally and easily missed is something we haven't seen on Disney DVDs in a long time: a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound effects-only track. Like any of its kin, the track allows one to appreciate the subtle and complex noises of the film without the presence of dialogue and music. It's not the type of thing you're likely to watch all the way through or (gasp!) multiple times, but there's value to it and there was ample space for it, so what's the harm? From the fireworks in the young three-dimensional Walt Disney Pictures logo to distant thunder to the exploding peanut butter and jelly.... there's much to marvel at and that's only in Chapter 1.

Neither Boat Builders nor Working for Peanuts, the vintage Disney shorts that accompanied Meet the Robinsons in standard and 3-D showings, respectively, is found on the disc, despite being no-brainer inclusions.

The animated menus make good use of the film's worlds. A section of Danny Elfman's score accompanies the appropriately futuristic main menu, while the dinosaur dancing among a spinning disco ball spices up the Bonus Features screen. Other menus are static but accompanied by lively instrumental excerpts of songs and Elfman compositions. Most supplements are 16x9-enhanced and all are subtitled.

Playing upon insertion of the FastPlay-enhanced DVD are company promos for Enchanted, the Disney Movie Rewards program, Ratatouille, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. The Sneak Peeks menu holds these in addition to previews for Return to Never Land: Special Edition (since retitled a Pixie-Powered Edition), The Aristocats: Special Edition, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True Special Edition, High School Musical 2: Extended Edition, and Snow Buddies.

Though the last few Feature Animation releases didn't, it nearly goes without saying that Robinsons is treated to some eye-catching packaging. The standard black keepcase gets housed in a sparkly, much-embossed cardboard slipcover. Inside the case, one finds two double-sided inserts, one for the Disney Movie Rewards program (with code) and one holding a scene list and extras overview. A mini-booklet mostly advertises new and upcoming Disney DVDs and provides a coupon for a free kid's haircut (with purchase of an adult cut).

Backwards-dressing Grandpa Bud shows Lewis (in Carmen Miranda fruit hat) around the Robinsons' high-tech home. Should the nice Lipnicki-ish boy get into the time machine of the dastardly Bowler Hat Guy? What says you, audience?


Meet the Robinsons is a good story told in a fun way. While it's too soon to say that Disney Feature Animation is certainly back on the right track, it's easy to declare this film a step in that direction. One of the most entertaining animated movies of the decade, this certainly ranks among the studio's best efforts since wavering from its '90s streak of consistent crowd-pleasers. Among the multitude of CGI comedies out there, this one stands out and is well worth seeing.

The DVD provides sufficient reason for owning it too, with its outstanding picture and solid sound quality. The bonus features leave a bit to be desired; not every movie needs to be covered in depth from top-to-bottom, but the disc doesn't even come close. Withholding some deleted scenes for the Blu-ray version seems a little spiteful towards customers and if space were truly a concern, then there's no reason the film couldn't have gotten a more comprehensive two-disc set. It's the type of thing another studio would do and so would Disney, if they were more mindful of the present.

Those wanting the definitive Robinsons release could keep moving forward and wait for a better DVD, but based on the studio's practices, that won't happen anytime soon and there's little reason to deny yourself of a fine movie worth watching multiple times in the hopes of a great DVD instead of a merely okay one.

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The Voice Cast of Meet the Robinsons:
Nicole Sullivan: Scrubs: The Complete Third Season | Tom Kenny: Handy Manny: Tooling Around
Laurie Metcalf: Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season Balloon Farm | Angela Bassett: Mr. 3000

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Reviewed October 12, 2007.