This latest Disney cartoon is a strange beast indeed. Graphically, it’s one of their best — a CGI creation with real warmth, an utterly charming style and amazing fluidity. Plotwise, it’s not without its moments too — if a little complex for its obvious target audience. But somehow the whole package falls strangely flat. Part of the problem is the script, which isn’t as funny as it seems to think it is — although there are some good gags. Mostly, though, it’s the sheer number of superfluous characters that appear for no reason other than somebody’s thought of them. it is as though the movie has been designed by committee, with nobody having the balls to say no to a suggestion. To paraphrase and rehash clichés, this is everything and the kitchen sink when less would have been so much more.
Lewis is a young boy who loves gadgets and is a budding scientific genius. But, if he’s left to languish in the orphanage much longer, that potential might never be realised and he’ll never know what it’s like to have a family. Cue the arrival of one Wilbur Robinson, who whisks Lewis off for a great adventure... in the future. Here he does what it says on the poster, meeting every eccentric member of the Robinson clan — and God knows how many there are. But there’s a problem. While Wilbur’s dad has mastered time travel, he’s only got two working time machines — one of which has been stolen by the mysterious Bowler Hat Guy and the other one that is, thanks to Lewis messing around mid-journey, now in pieces on the workshop floor. Can they rebuild it, defeat Bowler Hat Guy, get to the bottom of his devilish plot and get Lewis back in time to win the Science Fair? And just why did Wilbur come and find him in the first place?
You sort of have to admire a kids’ film that plays around so much with narrative structure, like Pixar by Tarantino, but Meet The Robinsons generally proves that certain rules exist for a good reason. It’s a shame, because the film — the first original movie to be released generally in Disney Digital 3D — looks fantastic. Admittedly, the novelty of the crystal-clear 3D will probably be enough to get some bums on seats, but you do expect so much more from Disney than gimmick. There are moments here — the jazz-loving Mafia frogs, in particular — that show real creativity, but none of them gel. The frogs are excellent (and the lead singer is voiced by Jamie Cullum for one of the decade’s more surreal movie moments), but they just don’t belong in this film. And that goes for so much of the background detail. A bold but ultimately frustrating effort.