Following the festering abortion known as "Chicken Little" is Disney's next CG excursion, "Meet the Robinsons." Louis is a teenage orphan with a knack for inventing, who is pretty bummed that no one wants to adopt him. Rationalizing that the only person that ever cared about him was his birth mother, he begins work on a memory scanning device so he can enter his subconscious and find what she looks like. His efforts are interrupted by a strange kid Wilbur, who tells him his invention is going to be stolen by a guy wearing a bowler hat from the future. To prove his story, Wilbur takes Louis into the future, where he is amazed by the advancements of technology, and especially weirded out by his quirky extended family. Meanwhile, the Bowler Hat Guy does indeed attempt to steal Louis' invention and pass it off as his own, thanks in particular to his sentient headwear DOR-15. When the motives for his grudge against him are made clear, Louis is the only one who can re-establish the flow of time the way it's supposed to be.
I'm surprised that a film that hinges on such a complicated (and occasionally flawed) time travel schematic ended up going through by Disney. It certainly makes the story a lot more interesting. Before we get to all that we must sit through the set-up of Louis' pathetic position in life, though, which is not entirely unbearable, but still feels a bit cloying. But we do connect with Louis' struggles, see his mission in life and hope he succeeds, even if he does have a bit of an annoying voice. Wilbur is a harder character to pin down, he's very spastic, slightly on edge but still maintaining to keep his cool. This may all be understandable, since I'd be a bit skittish about going back to the past and conversing with my own father as a kid, and his role in the story is more of a harbinger of future events than an actual character. Our focus is always Louis, be it his possible future or his actions in the present. Or past. Whatever, this is getting confusing already...
The future segments are pretty neat; nothing so revolutionary in terms of a vision of the future, but this film's just trying to be light and fun. I especially love the shot of Space Mountain and the Astro Orbitors from Disneyland, complete with a giant "TODAYLAND" sign. This middle section where Louis meets his family of the future is incredibly hectic, where we meet wacky character after wacky character, be it the old grandfather who dresses backwards, a superhero-pizzaman voiced by Adam West, a man married to an overbearing hand puppet, identical twins who live in pots by the front door beckoning those near to ring their respective doorbells, and Rat Pack-esque lounge singing frogs. While the togetherness apart from the weirdness of this strange family unit serve to entice Louis to this family he never had, this whole portion is very slap-dash, throwing up a lot of fast-paced visual puns, most of which fall flat, like an extended sequence parodying badly-dubbed Japanese kung-fu movies. Also at times a lot of the family members flip-flop from being delightfully quirky and needing to be committed; there's only so much craziness one can take, you know.
The second act plot detour is made up for in the third act, where the twists become apparent, conundrums need to be resolved, and of course, time needs to be traveled once more. We also learn the true identity of the Bowler Hat Guy, which is a very intriguing revelation, and a good parallel at what Louis could become if he doesn't change his perceptions. Speaking of, the Bowler Hat Guy is a very interesting character, brutally vindictive, but still clueless. He also is a flip-flopping character, though purposefully, going from being a threat to being dumb. Sometimes they pushed the dumbness too far though, as I liked the moments where he was semi-competent, at least well-intentioned... for his own purposes, anyway. His stupidity is contrasted by "Doris," his super-intelligent, super-evil hat, with a torrid back story of its own. It's a cool little character as well, and they're a pretty amusing evil team. Bowler Hat Guy is also proof positive great performances can come from non-actors, as he's voiced by the director.
Verdict? The mantra of the film is "Keep Moving Forward," and the closing shot is a quote to that effect said by Walt Disney. While some have attributed this theme to Disney attempting to justify its switch to CG, I think it shows hope for the company. This movie is certainly proof of that: while it's no masterpiece, it's a goofy, light-hearted time-travel-lite story with some amusing bits, pretty cool animation and a coherent-enough story. Being weird as hell doesn't hurt either.