Thursday, September 13, 2012

Disney's Meet the Robinsons

Disney apparently needed a break, and for the first time since 1993, they didn't release an animated movie for the year. Yep, nothing happening in 2006. I think they made up for in 2000 when they released three movies, though. Disney had just bought Pixar, which meant that John Lasseter was back in town. It also meant that Disney's animation studio had to do something to set themselves apart from Pixar. What did they do? They changed their name to "Walt Disney Animation Studios." That ought to show Pixar! It does sound better than "Walt Disney Feature Animation," though. Meet the Robinsons would be the first film to have the new name. Something interesting about this film is that it is actually based on a book, much to my surprise. The book, released in 1990 as a picture book and written by William Joyce, was called A Day with Wilbur Robinson. The book is about a boy named Lewis who visits his friend Wilbur Robinson. OK, now I get the title! Wilbur's grandpa has lost his teeth and he recruits Lewis to help him find them. Along the way, Lewis meets all of Wilbur's crazy relatives. That's it. What'd you expect? It's a picture book! The film retains only the meeting of the strange family members and a few character models and names, but that's basically it. The film was going to have the same name as the book, but that idea was scrapped, along with a few other things apparently.

John Lasseter was now the chief creative officer for both Pixar and Walt Disney studios. Meet the Robinsons had been in production for a while now and director Stephen J. Anderson, who had wanted to direct the movie due to it's subject matter on orphans (he being an orphan himself), had to meet with Lasseter to show him how the film was going. Lasseter saw an early screening of the film and was not exactly thrilled about what he saw. He apparently didn't think the villain was threatening enough and didn't much care for the ending. Ten months later, about sixty percent of the movie had been re-shot or re-rendered. Anderson had made a completely new villain, given him a dinosaur sidekick, put a dinosaur chase scene in the movie, and even changed the ending to the film. Yeah! Dinosaurs make everything better! Just like in Dinosaur!...oh wait.

I only saw this movie for the first time last year, but I'm glad I did see it, as I thoroughly enjoyed it. Is it as good as some of the classics? No, but it stands on its own legs. The story has a lot of little quirks, such as the family itself and all its zaniness, and the whole time travel aspects. Time travel movies are always unique because of the explorations of ramifications of one's actions. This movie doesn't step into Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, but it still delves into what can happen when you don't have your head in the right place. Lewis is so concerned with finding out why his mother abandoned him, that it not only negatively effects his life, but others around him. It's only through going into the future (2037 to be exact. The same year that the world ended in The Time Machine due to the moon falling apart) and meeting a unique family that he learns what is truly important, and that perhaps the what-ifs don't matter as much. It's a touching film and more so than some of the past couple of entries in the Disney canon. The movie doesn't depend on a star cast either, as the director ended up voicing the villain of the film. In fact, the only recognizable names I could find in the large voice cast was Nicole Sullivan (MAD TV), Harland Williams (Rocketman), Adam West (Batman), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants), and Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.). Most of those people don't even have large parts in the film! They are more like cameos!

Meet the Robinson debuted in March of 2007. Apparently Disney didn't learn their lesson from Home on the Range because this movie only netted them a $19 million dollar profit. It cost them $150 million to make, and combined grosses it made $169 million. Not a loss like Treasure Planet or Home on the Range, but not Chicken Little or Lilo & Stitch territory either. Critics were torn when it came to this movie. Some loved it, calling it charming and thought it a fantastic tribute to Walt Disney and his memory, while others described it as a "bumpy ride" and "surely one of the worst theatrical releases Disney has come out with in some time." Yikes. I don't know about that last review.

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