I absolutely adore this movie, which is funny since I don’t remember it ever really being on my radar when it was out in theaters back in 2007. I only really came across it after I saw it later on and was really blown away. It’s a great little story that is right up there with the Pixar movies as one of my favorites.
It’s not so surprising, though, after listening to the commentary and behind the scenes featurettes on the DVD I just bought the other day. The director, Stephen J. Anderson, who was part of the story team on Tarzan and Brother Bear (two more films that I love), really does well on the commentary, sharing a lot about all aspects of film’s production. He even shares how the story of Lewis mirrored his own life as an adopted child and how he came to the same epiphany that the character does in the end. Because of that fact, Anderson actively lobbied to direct this film after he first read the screenplay.
The movie, which took 4 years to complete, was based on A Day with Wilbur Robinson, a book written and illustrated by William Joyce. There are a lot of similarities between the characters in the book and those in the movie, but the stories are largely different. At the beginning of production, the story team created storyboards for the whole movie and presented them to the new (at that time) head of Disney and Pixar, John Lasseter, who made suggestions on how to improve the film. According to Wikipedia, almost 60% of the film was changed, but I’ve got to tell you that it was the best thing they could have done, and from the way the guys talk on the DVD, they’d agree.
For instance, in the beginning, they say that Bowler Hat Guy (Goob) was just a guy in a bowler hat. No particular reason. One of the comments that Lasseter made was that he didn’t find the villain scary enough. That gave rise to the development of Doris, the evil bowler hat, who manipulates poor Goob into several dastardly deeds as seen in the final film. Not only did that change introduce a fantastically evil antagonist, it made Goob a sympathetic character and give rise to one of the great reveals at the end.
It’s that kind of development that really makes me love Disney movies and hate movies where little or no editing or testing is done prior to production. It’s rare that any Disney film goes to production without that kind of scrutiny, so it’s equally rare for me to hate any Disney film (this doesn’t include the straight-to-video fare which is a separate animal). The same goes for Pixar films. I hate to keep harping on about it, but Michael Bay’s Transformers is the exact opposite. If that shit had been through a few screening sections with real writers, I’m sure they would have come out with a better product.
Meet the Robinsons is about Lewis, and orphan in the foster system who wonders about his real mother and why she gave him up. He’s a smart kid and spends a lot of his time inventing gadgets that he hopes will one day make things better.
One day, Lewis, after another of his inventions fails during an annual Science Fair, he meets a boy named Wilbur. He finds out that Wilbur is from the future and that he’s come back in time for Lewis’ help. Lewis eventually winds up hitching a ride and spending a day in with Wilbur’s family members, each one wackier than the last. He’s got an uncle whose wife is a ventriloquist dummy that fits on his hand, and yet they have two kids. I have no idea how that works, and I’m sure I don’t want to know.
Nutty or not, they are as completely endearing as their motto, “Keep moving forward.” They eventually help Lewis understand that living in the past locks you into it. To really make progress, you need to let go and start looking ahead: embracing your mistakes, learning from them, and trying again. It’s a great moral and works just as well for adults as it does for kids.
The movie’s special features reference Walt Disney a lot, and while that’s understandable considering his name is on it, it’s fantastic that it makes the connection to him as a futurist. Tony Stark is a futurist, as seen in Iron Man 2, and that’s part of the reason I love the character. Same goes for Disney. It’s awesome to see people so enthusiastic about potential, and so in love with wonder. It’s the same kind of character that I associate with a lot of my favorite writers.