April 5, 2007

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Meet the Robinsons (G)
An orphan boy and his nerdy dreams of inventing a way to find his mom come screaming at you in crazy color in Meet the Robinsons, a cartoon that is nonetheless funnily cute and about as entertaining as a modern G-rated movie can be.

G is tough. The Shrek movies, Madagascar, Over the Hedge and Happy Feet — these are all PGs. Cars is one of the few G movies not geared to just preschools that I’ve seen released in a long time. And, while I liked it better than its fellow nominee and Oscar-winner Happy Feet, Cars had a lot of moments that were saccharine or contrived.

Meet the Robinsons certainly has its syrupy points and it’s packed full of characters that seem to be competing hard in a wacky contest. And yet somehow, it remains an essentially fun movie-going experience.

Lewis (whose voice work is credited to both Daniel Hansen and Jordon Fry) is a science geek who was born to invent. He makes a peanut-butter-and-jelly-disbursal unit which doesn’t impress his latest set of potential adoptive parents as much as he wished it would. Then, determined to find his own family in the form of the mother who gave him up years earlier, he invents a machine that retrieves forgotten memories. Just as he’s about to display the invention at a science fair, a strange guy in a bowler hat (called Bowler Hat Guy and voiced by Steven Anderson) messes up the works and a kid named Stanley (Paul Butcher) shows up claiming to be from the future to try to get Lewis to give his project another try. Before they can get back to the fair, the boys end up in the future where Lewis must attempt to fix Stanley’s now-broken time machine and Stanley tries unsuccessfully to keep Lewis away from his wacky extended family.

Bowler Hat Guy gives Meet the Robinsons an entertainingly daffy villain who is something like a less malicious, not-as-smart Count Olaf from the Series of Unfortunate Events books. But the real movement of the plot comes from Lewis, who quickly finds himself enchanted by Stanley’s family and is unwilling to leave, even if it means some kind of rift in the universe. Adam West, Harlan Williams, Laurie Metcalf and Tom Selleck give their characters personality without eclipsing those characters with their own zaniness, Robin Williams-style. There is an angly Jetsons look to this mostly future-set movie that is a refreshing change from the rounded style of 3D animation. It makes the movie more cartoony, more pretend and helps keep the visuals, and therefore the film overall, fun.

Subtlety gets lost in some of the spazzy color and sugared-up action but Meet the Robinsons is an overall above average form of silly family entertainment. B

Note: Perhaps the most delightful part of the film is an old Mickey Mouse watercolor short that runs before the feature. In it, Mickey, a nearly unintelligible Donald Duck and Goofy build a boat from a kit. It’s fascinating to watch the cartoon, which is every bit as colorful as Meet the Robinsons (and even more endearing) but is at a (much appreciated) slower pace.

Rated G. Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and written by Jon Bernstein, Robert L. Baird, Daniel Gerson, Shirley Pierce and Michelle Bochner from a book by William Joyce, Meet the Robinsons is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed by Buena Vista Pictures.