Welcome to the Disney Revival Rundown! This week, we at Rotoscopers are analyzing some of the most recent Disney animated films, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series we will have a fan vote to determine which is the best of them all!
but it was the first film to be released under the new company name, ‘Walt Disney Animation Studios’, with the new
logo. It was John Lasseter’s hope that by renaming the studio he could start fresh and get the studio firmly back on its feet. Was it really the beginning of the new ‘Disney revival’ that lead to big box office hits such as
, let me give you a brief synopsis: Lewis is a young orphan inventor who meets an enigmatic boy named Wilbur Robinson. Together they travel to the future to track down the evil Bowler Hat Guy and set Lewis’ life back on the right path.
I remember going into this movie not knowing what to expect, and I think that is the best way to go into it. It was nothing like any previous Disney film I had seen; it did not have music by Alan Menken and it was not based on a classic novel. It was a quirky time-travelling comedy with plots, sub-plots and even a twist ending. I like princess movies and buddy comedies as much as the next Disney fan, but when it comes to a film about family then real heart-strings can be pulled. If you asked me what my favourite animated film is, the answer will always be
Before I talk about the Robinson family, let’s take a look at our main hero, Lewis. He has a need to create new things that can make the world better and he is very much the dreamer, similar to Walt Disney himself. He is also an introvert and, like all of us at his age, a little lost in life.
I’ll be thirteen next year and you know how hard it is for a teenager to get adopted. I have no future,” Lewis claims. Here begins the real central motivation for the story. It’s all about the future – literally, since they do travel to the future, but also metaphorically. It makes us think about what we can achieve that will make us truly happy. For Lewis, it is not just a Nobel prize or a hefty paycheck for his inventions. It’s someone he can call ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. Director Stephen Anderson was an orphan himself and, I believe, this really gives a more realistic depth and emotion to Lewis, and thereby the film itself.
is based on a picture book by William Joyce whose other works have been adapted into animated movies, such as
though as it was based on his own ‘screwball’ family. He even had an uncle that was convinced he was from another planet. This is why I find the family to be so entertaining and interesting. But more than that, everyone from Franny who trains singing frogs to Uncle Art and his Pizza delivery spaceship are open-handed, warm and caring. It’s not difficult to see why Lewis would jump at the chance of being adopted by them. Let’s not forget Wilbur, too. He is the epitome of a mischievous charismatic young boy. He is bold enough to wear a lightening bolt on his t-shirt and use phrases like ‘the truth will set you free, brother’. If it wasn’t for Wilbur’s spontaneous extroverted nature, Lewis would never have traveled to the future and met a true friend.
But every good movie needs a good villain, too, and the Bowler Hat Guy ticks all the boxes. That is the director’s voice you hear as BHG – through the help of channeling his road rage apparently – with an almost Jim Carrey-like comedic timing. BHG is driven by selfishness, and an evil hat named Doris; it’ll make sense when you have seen the film. He is what Lewis could have become if he focused on the past. You’ve got to love a villain that is complex. Yes, that’s right. I’m calling the Bowler Hat Guy a complex character. After all, he does somewhat redeem himself.
I am very lenient when it comes to judging the animation of
. Since it was released in 2007, we know that it’s not going to have the budget of
but you can certainly see it’s the beginning of something special. There are reflections in windows and a scene with black smoke that to me looks super realistic. It is also the brightest color script I have ever seen, particularly when you get to the future and everything is so bold and crisp. Maybe it is the ‘Tomorrowland’ Walt Disney was hoping for. You’ve also got to love the background detail in this film. Did you happen to catch the birds on the roof wearing fezzes? It is one of those movies that clearly had care and attention. My favorite example is Lewis’s socks. Did you ever notice that one of his socks is always down? Character designer Joe Moshier explains in the
that “the one sock that has lost its elasticity and sits slightly lower than his shin belies a little bit of instability”. That is the kind of detail I love to see in a movie, animated or otherwise.
What about the music? There are no major Disney songs that get stuck in your head after you have left the theater, but the film does not fall down in the music department. Ever heard of Danny Elfman? I think he usually has something to do with Tim Burton. In
he is on top form. I really admire live-action film composers that don’t look down on scoring animated films. Elfman brings everything he normally does to the music: dramatic suspense and emotive pieces. It is fair to say I’m a fan of Elfman but combine it with an animated film about family, then I’m sold. All I have to do is listen to the track “Setting Things Right” and I’ll tear up as quickly as I did when I watched the movie. Even the ‘pop songs’, that usually feel contrived in movies, fit snugly into this film. Rufus Wainwright’s childlike singing voice almost feels like he’s goading Lewis on in the background and Jamie Cullum’s smooth jazz tone adds so much class to the singing frogs. The cherry on the cake is of course Rob Thomas’s “Little Wonders” that accompanies the film’s message of ‘keep moving forward’ so perfectly.
I cannot talk about the ending without giving away spoilers, so you’re safe for now if you haven’t seen it. But I will say that we do find ourselves at the end of the movie with a lot of loose ends to tie up. And if the characters and the music was not enough to grab me, then the ending warms my heart and gives me hope. I believe this was the beginning of the ‘Disney Revival’ because, unlike Disney’s previous films
had heart and depth. As a fellow animation fan, I’m sure you understand that animated movies are so much more than ‘kids films’ and ‘silly cartoons’. They touch us on an emotional and creative level that can stay with us forever. I live by Lewis’s and Walt Disney’s ‘keep moving forward’ motto. And that’s not a testament to how I live but how the movie has helped me live.
? Where would you rank it in our Disney Revival Rundown?
This was a fun movie and it was the predecessor for BH6 and Tormorrowland in terms of being innovented.
Although I really Luke this film, I wouldn’t consider it part of the Revival, like how we don’t count the amazing Great Mouse Detective as part of the Renaissance. I think its a step forward and save Disney a bit like Mouse.
Unless you consider the start of the renaissance when the studio name was changed and when Lassetter came on board as producer. The film definitely marks a transition.
i dont consider that. Disney’s logo and name changes all the time over the past 90 years. no one marks it as anything. what matters is the quality of it and how it performs at the box office.
if chicken little had the logo, then would you count it? no, definitely not.
Except that Chicken Little is pre-Pixar merge. There was a lot of change at the studio during this time, you could possibly argue that Robinsons was the last film before the renaissance but like I said it’s definitely a transitional film. It’s a film that marks the end of an era or the begining of one or both. Regardless of how it’s catergorised it is important to look back on it to understand what has sparked this revival and I think you can see that by looking at whose name has been added as producer. Lasseter is the difference (not taking anything away from Catmul) and I believe that all his productions should fall under the same banner.
we could say the same to the Renaissance. there was lots of change post-Black Cauldron. Katzenberg came and brought in many talents like Alan Menken and Glen Keane. but we dont categorize Great Mouse Detective or Black Cauldron (which Katzenberg is part of) as the Renaissance.
That’s very true but I think those films fall more into a post-Don Bluth era for the studio. I think with the release of Rodger Rabbit and the stylistic decision to mimic Broadway musicals are what separates the other films and starts the Renaissance. Rescuers Down Under is an exception to this but I think a change in execution is what defines the era as I think that’s what is defining this era and Meet the Robinsons is the first indication of that change.
you can have your own belief on when the Revival start. many have different interpretations anyway.
my Revival era is when Tangled came out. just like the start and restart of the Golden Age (Cinderella, Snow White), and Renaissance (Mermaid), Tangled set the world on fire with box office hit, being the most expensive animated film ever signaling a gamble like Snow White and Cinderella, start of CG era, critical hit that surpasses Frog, Bolt, Robinsons, and simply being a princess film that returned to Disneys roots like Mermaid, Cindy, and Snow.
Glen Keane had been at WDAS long before Katzenberg came along. The “spark” for the Renaissance came from multiple people as well as the change in management and various other circumstances, but one could definitely make an argument that it was Howard Ashman who, more than anyone else, jump-started WDAS back to life and really started the Renaissance.
I agree, Robinsons didn’t set the world on fire but its a good sign of change to come. After seeing the front cover of WIRED magazine Nov 2014 edition, I think that its either Bolt or The Princess and the Frog that initiated the Disney Revival.
An extremely underrated film and one that makes my Top Fave Disney Movies list!
I do recall seeing this on the big screen when it came out (and the first film in 3-D for me), I thought it was pretty OK, at little too obvious by the end I’m sure but I enjoyed it through.
I saw this movie when it came out and even though I liked it, I wasn’t super crazy about it. It definitely doesn’t rank up there (at least for me) with other Disney classics from the early to mid-90s. I did, however, think it was quite a bit better than past Disney efforts like “Chicken Little” and “The Wild.” For me, I think the new Disney Revival started with “Bolt.” I really loved that movie! It had great animation, great characters, and great design. The action scenes in the beginning of the movie were excellent. Bolt, for me, really kicked off this new era of Disney animation.
fyi, The Wild is not WDAS. they merely distribute it, so its not part of the library of WDAS films.
Well, they could’ve (and did) fooled me because they marketed the heck out of that movie. I remember watching the Disney Channel a lot around that time and there were always showing some kind of mini feature/commercial for it. I guess it’s the same as what they’ve been doing for “Strange Magic” lately. Oh well. I still think “Meet the Robinsons” was better than “Chicken Little,” but not as good as “Bolt.”
Disney distanced themselves, in terms of branding, more from Strange Magic than they did The Wild, for whatever reasons. There has been a fair amount of confusion over this movie and some others like Valiant, for example. However, if you pay attention to the intros, the appropriate production studios are always credited. This was probably one major reason WDAS was finally, name change aside, given their own identity and intro. Previously they were only credited, as “Walt Disney Feature Animation”, when contributing to movies other than their own–for their own movies there was no identity or credit aside from the generic Walt Disney Pictures branding.
The latter was probably because WDAS, way back when, used to BE Disney, so supposedly there was no need to identify them as anything other than Disney, and their movies as simply Walt Disney Pictures (or just “Disney” these days) releases. But Lasseter understands the importance of things like identity and prestige, so especially given that Disney had begun to release animated features from multiple studios in addition to WDAS and Pixar, he naturally felt that finally giving WDAS an identity and credit was necessary (particularly as he sought to rebuild their confidence).
And in this case “they” were actually Walt Disney Pictures as opposed to WDAS.
Totally agree about Bolt, I see that as the start of the upswing as well. Fabulous little film that was brilliantly crafted. Wish more folks gave it the time of day! I often wonder what it would be like if it had been 2D instead. I almost think it could have been more successful, because it would have been different at the time (as everyone and their brother was on the 3D bandwagon by then). Alas, we’ll never know.
I have to agree too that the Disney Revival started with “Bolt”. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull didn’t have much control over “Meet the Robinsons”, it is the making of “Bolt” where the two are more involved in the process whilst changing the culture of WDAS.
I really enjoy this film’s zany plot and characters. I also like how design of the Robinsons’ house resemble the style of William Joyce. The main reason why l like the film is because of its message.
I kinda agree to how the style of every William Joyce films are similarly distinct just like how most of Disney’s animated films in the mid-40s and 50s bore Mary Blair’s art style.
This movie was really weird and random… And I loved every minute of it!! Definitely one of my favorites. I mean, how could you nit love a movie when a T-rex utters such a line like: “I have a big head and little arms. I’m just not sure how well this plan was thought through.”
I totally loved this movie first seeing it and still do! I think its so over looked in Disney’s bracket, yes its not perfect but it made me feel important and that I can believe that anything is possible if I dream and do hard work
Its totally probably my top 20 I think at least but maybe even my top 10!
I personally don’t mind the film at all despite its not one of Disney’s strongest efforts. I knew it was gonna be the start of something new, but not in a sense as part of Disney’s Revival (I always thought either Princess and the Frog that initiated it). I love the song “Little Wonders”, which brought to tears as it has an aspiring message of “keep moving forward” and a future that is awaiting for Lewis.
I wonder if the reason I find Meet the Robinsons to be my least favorite Disney animated film by far is coupled with the fact that I did not see it when it released, but many years later. Unlike something akin to Snow White or Pinocchio which have a timeless quality, MtR was dated so quickly and had so little to fall back on that I’d be curious how many people who didn’t see it right when it came out have even heard of it today.
I think I would have enjoyed the time-related hijinks if the whole thing wasn’t so DANG predictable. The only real surprise was the villain, which they kind of got away with by so dramatically altering the character that you’d be hard pressed to see it coming. I also found the characters rather grating; extreme cartoon stereotypes that seemed to be pushed to such unreasonable levels that it couldn’t hit any realism beats for me. I’m all for cartoons (I think Despicable Me did an incredible job at balancing old-school cartoon feel with very deep, likeable characters and heart) but the balance here, to me, seemed monstrously off. When the time came to care, I wasn’t invested in any of the characters of the future because they were so wacky.
I always enjoy hearing about others’ opinions on the films I found lacking, it’s a fascinating thing to see the alternate perspective. Thanks for posting this!
I’ve never seen this one. Maybe i should give it I try. I think its on netflix.
Disney gets a lot of credit for making a villain that is not only bad at being bad and a fun character at any age, but interesting in every aspect. I like this film. Still do.
I loved all these commented about ‘MTR’. It seems this movie is certainly an acquired taste!
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