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MEET THE ROBINSONS (article first published : 2007-04-24)

A purple octopus butler, meatball fights at a dinner table, airborne bowler hats with minds of their own. A man who wears his clothes back to front. A guy who believes he is married to a wooden puppet he manoeuvres. Not to forget a Tyrannosaurus Rex with an inferiority complex, a golden robot with an extendable neck, two squabbling men who live in plant pots and a woman who teaches frogs to sing, dress and act like 50s crooners.

These are some of the outrageous characters in Meet the Robinsons, a film which, shown in 3D in some US cinemas, is inspired by William Joyce's children's book, A Day With Wilbur Robinson.

It's a new computer-animated offering from the Disney studio, centring on Lewis (the voice of Daniel Hansen). He's a 12-year-old boy raised at an orphanage after his mother abandoned him as an infant, at the institution's door, one rainy night. Lewis is mad about inventing things and is taken aback when his new pal, Wilbur Robinson, says he is from the future - and then proves it by taking Lewis aboard a time machine that zaps them a few decades forward, into a sort of 1950s vision of a future world that almost resembles a cross between Alice's Wonderland and television's Futuruma.

It's a world where technology has taken massive strides and new inventions are everywhere - all mostly due to the pioneering work of Wilbur's dad, Cornelius (the voice of Tom Selleck).

There Lewis gets to meet and mingle with young Wilbur's wild and whacky family and friends - as well as do battle with a classic hissing villain hell-bent on destroying the future. All twirly moustache and panto exaggerations, he's known to Lewis only as the Man in a Bowler Hat. And what a bowler hat . . .

Lewis also dreams of using the time machine to fly back to the time when he was abandoned, to meet the mother for whom he has long pined.

Featuring a score and occasional incidental songs by Danny Elfman, who has long contributed scores to Tim Burton films, Meet the Robinsons is directed by Steve Anderson.

It's frenetic and exhausting at times, initially as confusing as it is colourful, but it finally connects all its loose ends to make for a fun, satisfying and heart-warming finale. It's an ending many will see coming early on in the proceedings, but which, judging from some audible gasps, many in the young audience at a Sunday matinee did not predict.

Also featuring the voice talents of Angela Bassett, Laurie Metcalf and Adam West, Meet the Robinsons has enough kooky adventure and surprises to keep viewers of all ages happily engaged. It doesn't rank up high with the Disney classics, but, as one overseas reviewer so aptly put it, “it's a film too fluffy to hate, too friendly to condemn, and too sweetly bright not to smile just a little at its antics”.

PS: It's worth noting that a classic Disney cartoon from 1938, Boat Builders, featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, is shown before the main feature. A nice touch of nostalgia, welcomed by the littlies in the audience. Rating 6/10 – Billy Suter




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