The future, remixed.
How It Rates: ***
Starring: Voices of Angela Bassett, Adam West, Tom Selleck
Red Flags: NONE!
Many famous inventors didn't really invent the products they are famous for. They merely appropriated ideas from others and had more leverage to get them patented, marketed and sold. Thomas Edison didn't create the light bulb, but he improved on the idea. Italian Antonio Mucci created a prototype telephone years before Alexander Graham Bell. Meet The Robinsons embodies that spirit in its CGI-animated yarn about a boy inventor. The film becomes a giant guessing game of "Where Have I Seen This Before?" -- albeit an entertaining one. I counted ideas borrowed or modified from Dudley Do-Right, Star Trek, Robots, Flushed Away, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Back To The Future.
Lewis (voices of Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) is a 13-year-old aspiring inventor living in an orphanage. He's brainy beyond belief, but his inventions gone haywire are scaring off adoptive parents -- more than a hundred of them. Lewis finally decides that the only mother right for him is the one who abandoned him on the orphanage doorstep as a baby. So he puts together a brain scanner which looks like a colorful erector set of old TV parts, kitchen utensils and a few knobs and flywheels. He shows it off at the school Science Fair, only to see his hope dashed again by a sinister, shadowy, handlebar-mustached villain known only as the Bowler Hat Guy -- who looks suspiciously like Snidely Whiplash. Jay Ward's estate ought to sue for copyright infringement.
Snidely-- uh, Hat Guy, however, is more like his arch nemesis Dudley Do-Right in that he lacks enough brain cells to pull off a decent evil plot. No worries. He's got his hat Doris, something that looks like it flew in from Spiderman 2 to do the grunt work.
But also lurking is Wilbur, a self-described time-cop from the future who's after the Bowler Hat Guy, and who needs to give Lewis a healthy pep talk to save himself and the world of tomorrow. Deals are made, and Wilbur agrees to take Lewis into the future in his time-travel aircraft (with a cloaking device that surely infringes on a Klingon patent) in exchange for Lewis fixing his memory scanner. Lewis sees the future and more in Wilbur's eccentric family, featuring a frog orchestra and a super-hero pizza-delivery guy (Adam West's voice), among other things. They're fun to watch, but it's so over-the-top bizarre it overloads the picture. Here ends the synopsis, because explaining any more plot points will give away a few twists.
I enjoyed the film, especially in digital 3-D. This is not the old red-blue headache of the past, but a transparent polarized system that works beautifully. The film does not exploit the format -- no arrows into the camera -- but it does take on more depth. I only wish the story did. It does have a message about dreams and family, something kids will benefit from, but it's not at the level of a Pixar effort, which also finds something for the grown-ups.
Make sure you arrive in time to catch the pre-show feature "Working For Peanuts," a Donald Duck cartoon made for 3-D that hasn't been seen since the 1950's. It's a treat!