Oh, my … color me pleasantly surprised: After getting a divorce from animation big-man-on-campus Pixar, the mouse factory has gone on with its life, delivering with a feature that, well, I enjoyed more than any Pixar product I’ve ever seen.
And while I’ve always been disconcerted with some of the recurring themes and motifs of Disney cartoons before they settled into being Pixar’s sugar daddy, in an odd way it is reassuring to see them return to form.
Young Lewis-with-no-last-name is a budding inventor with mad skillz, trapped in a decrepit orphanage, his wild-haired big brain potential repeatedly passed over by prospective adoptive parents trolling for jock material. On the eve of the big science fair, he is paid a visit by a hyper-caffeinated figure from the near future, who claims that Lewis’ brain holds the key to the doors that lead to the proper passage of time … or something. Ahem. It’s a time-travel thingamabob, so that means a narrative that you’ll probably have to explain to the young’ns after the film.
In a lot of ways, Meet the Robinsons is an inverse of the family film, in that the majority of the humor and pop-culture riffs are squarely aimed at the adults in attendance (and in what is probably one of the most flabbergasting in-jokes I’ve seen in a children’s film, there’s a three-second visual riff on one of the most notorious of Internet memes … if you don’t know the one I’m talking about, consider your life popcorn and butterflies). Not that the kids won’t enjoy the proceedings; the animation is pleasing in a neo-retro sort of way, the characters act as if they have Red Bull flowing through their veins, and the visual gags spill forth at a frenetic clip.
The only downside I can see for a family night out is that the climax may be a little too visually intense for the younger children; think Night of the Living Dead meets War of the Worlds painted with Hieronymus Bosch colors. Which is par for the course for a Disney animated film … always throw in a li’l sumpin-sumpin to mess with the tots’ dreamscape.