Family Robinsons a manic bunch

Meet the Robinsons

on March 30, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
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Walt Disney Feature Animation's second (and last) pre-Pixar purchase computer-generated ‘toon closes with a nod to the past, attributing the central tenet of the film—the oft-repeated phrase “keep moving forward”—to Walt himself. It's a nice, nostalgic touch in the studio's new era under John Lasseter, who delayed this film's release in order to tinker, and an apt description of the plot itself. Despite a relatively simple storyline about an orphan in search of a family, the rather complex machinations keep pushing the narrative ahead so as to not allow too much time to dwell on the how or why.

Meet Lewis, a clever little boy (with spiky blond hair and eyeglasses reminiscent of the Mouse House's last CG protagonist, Chicken Little ) whose disastrously malfunctioning inventions like the Peanut Butter and Jelly Making Machine have resulted in 124 adoption interviews with no takers. He decides to try to locate his birth mother instead by devising a Memory Scanner that will help him remember the day she left him on the stoop of the orphanage. But, when he unveils the contraption at the school science fair, a mysterious man in an evil R2D2-esque bowler hat crashes the party. Onto the wrongdoer is Wilbur Robinson, a boy behind his time who takes Lewis back to the, uh, future in order to set things right while keeping his new friend out of sight of his eccentric family.

There's the maternal Franny, conductor of an amphibious big band; Grandpa Bud, who wears his clothes backwards and has a tendency to lose his teeth; disco-loving Grandma Lucille; hen-pecked Uncle Fritz, whose wife Petunia is a hand puppet; Uncles Spike and Dmitri, who bicker over the doorbell from their roosts in ceramic flower pots on the front porch…the list goes on. Individually the Robinsons' quirks are creatively manifested, and a montage of comedic bits and sight gags are often quite funny. But it's a wealth of material that cumulatively gives the film a manic quality.

That mania only increases in the third act, when the filmmakers must somehow wrap the story up while addressing the consequences of the characters' time-travel antics. It's difficult to elaborate without giving too much away, but the developments stretch the bounds of believability, even for a cartoon, and certain revelations—among them a dystopian alternate future—are, well, discomfiting. Particularly upsetting is the fate of Lewis' baseball-loving roommate Goob, among the most endearing animated characters, whose dark under-eye circles are presumably caused by sleep-deprivation but also suggest such other orphanhood troubles as malnutrition. In retrospect, this kind of subtlety may be giving the G-rated movie too much credit. Distributor: Disney
Voices: Jordan Fry, Wesley Singerman, Stephen John Anderson and Angela Bassett
Director: Stephen Anderson
Screenwriters: Jon Bernstein and Michelle Spitz and Don Hall, Nathan Greno, Aurian Redson, Joe Mateo and Stephen Anderson
Producer: Dorothy McKim
Genre: Animated; 3D
Rating: G
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: March 30, 2007

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