Earlier this year I trekked to the mall with my toddler in tow so he could experience his first flick in the theater. The movie was Disney's 'Meet the Robinsons' -- a CGI-animated film that was not produced by the Pixar folks. Even armed to the teeth with a variety of snacks, a handful of toys, and plenty of napkins, I fully expected my son to make it all of twenty minutes. To my great surprise, however, his little wide eyes remained transfixed on the screen throughout.
'Meet the Robinsons' is an old fashioned family film that tells the story of an orphan named Lewis (voiced by Daniel Hansen) who just so happens to be a brilliant inventor. After scaring off yet another set of potential adoptive parents, he's convinced he'll never find a family that accepts him. But that all changes when he meets a mysterious boy named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman) who whisks Lewis away to the future in a stolen time machine. Lewis meets Wilbur's family and instantly feels at home for the first time in his life, but it soon becomes clear that he can't stay in the future. With a villain called the Bowler Hat Guy (Stephen Anderson) in hot pursuit, Lewis and Wilbur will have to thwart the madman's evil plan of altering the time stream and find a way to get Lewis home again.
Kids will adore 'Meet the Robinsons.' Where else can you find a cohesive story that combines spaceships, dinosaurs, robots, crazy inventions, wacky characters, singing frogs, and an assortment of other bells and whistles? There's a comfortable consistency to the chaos and plenty of eye candy to keep children engrossed from beginning to end.
Adults will have a good time as well. 'Meet the Robinsons' may not be as consistently entertaining as Pixar masterpieces like 'Toy Story' or 'The Incredibles,' but it doesn't ignore its older audience either. First time director Stephen Anderson includes plenty of psychological humor, several nods to a variety of heavier films (including '2001: A Space Odyssey'), and a series of clever parodies including one that features the singing frogs and their "true nature." Hilarious.
Of course, like most films in its brethren, there's some subtext to the story as well, as lurking beneath the surface of the shiny futuristic setting is a dark tale of loneliness and self-worth. I wasn't sure how my son would handle the concepts of orphanages, abandonment, or revenge, but Lewis is such an endearing character that it never feels abusive or unnecessary. As an adult, I appreciated the stark examination of these themes and never felt as if the film pandered to its younger viewers -- in fact, it's somewhat surprising that the filmmakers didn't sugarcoat these darker elements. Parents should be prepared to field some important questions after younger kids watch this one.
The few occasions where 'Meet the Robinsons' falters can be attributed to the difficulties of attempting to consistently engage its dual audience. The less fantastical set-up of the first half hour risks losing the youngest viewers, while the second half hour will have adults impatiently waiting for the plot to move along. These lulls are never bad enough to ruin the experience, but they do keep 'Meet the Robinsons' from achieving the serene perfection of the best animated films.
Overall, despite these stumbles, 'Meet the Robinsons' is an impressive effort from Disney that shows the animation studio still has plenty of fire in its belly. I hope 'Meet the Robinsons' proves to be a sign of things to come, rather than a fluke that simply followed the Pixar formula to success.
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, 'Meet the Robinsons' is another gorgeous high-def CGI transfer. Colors are bold, black levels are inky, and an abundance of texture details are a real visual treat. Jump to any scene with the tyrannosaurus rex -- take note of the crisp scales, the nicks on its claws, the imperfections in the grass beneath its feet, and the fabric in the bowler hat on its head. In fact, throughout the film, clothing textures not only showcase the filmmakers' extraordinary eyes for detail, but they reveal the proficiency of this transfer. The Bowler Hat Guy makes for an excellent demo reel of every texture the film throws at the screen, from his pants legs and cloak, to his oily eyebrows and mustache.
The only minor issue (if you can call it that) is that the visual look of 'Meet the Robinsons' is intentionally softer than that other CGI animated features. Scenes that take place in the present are filtered with a sepia-toned haze that's designed to artificially imbue the picture with a filmic quality. By contrast, the future scenes really pop and leave the film feeling a tad disjointed. Likewise, the filmmakers employ some visual tricks to toy with depth focus. The effect isn't entirely natural and distracts on occasion.
To be fair, the "issues" are certainly not a fault of this transfer. I only mention them because at times they make the film just a wee-bit less impressive than other CGI-animated films currently available in high definition. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone being genuinely disappointed by this visual pleasure of a transfer.
'Meet the Robinsons' features a strong PCM 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/24-Bit/6.9 Mbps), as well as a thinner Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix (640 kbps). The audio may not exhibit the booming aggressiveness of other high-def CGI offerings like 'TMNT,' but the dynamics are still quite impressive. Bass tones have an earthy rumble and treble whizzes are clean and stable. The crisp dialogue is naturally spread across the front channels and sounds nice and even. More importantly, the rear speakers are frequently used to open up the soundfield and create a convincing space.
Pans are transparent (albeit a bit artificial to my ear) and directionality is incredibly accurate for an animated film. The bouncy score is rich and really makes the entire track sound more robust and complete. My sole nitpick lies with the sound effects (or lack thereof) since many of the futuristic environments are crowded with muted inventions and hushed whirs. While I dig the prioritization of the dialogue, it's no excuse for leaving out so many tiny details in the soundscape. These minor quibbles aside, 'Meet the Robinsons' sounds as amazing as it looks.
Fans will be happy to see that all of the supplements from the concurrently-released 'Meet the Robinsons' standard-def DVD have been ported over to this Blu-ray edition. Even better, a good number of the special features are presented here in full 1080p video.
First up is a warm audio commentary with Stephen Anderson. The director doesn't sound like an old man, but he has a grandfatherly aura about him that makes this track a joy to listen to. His candid observations and personal attachment to the film's story and themes are refreshing to say the least. I also personally appreciated that he doesn't overindulge in CGI-related details -- his priorities are the plot, the characters and the tone of the film.
"Inventing the Robinsons" (1080p, 18 minutes) is a quick look at the production of film. Dominated by talking heads, this one's a fairly standard featurette, but it has a lot of good information. There's some repetition with the commentary, but everyone is engaging and the featurette is over long before it has a chance to become boring.
Next up, three "Deleted Scenes" (1080p, 7 minutes) have been ported from the standard DVD (note there are another three deleted scenes also included, which you'll find detailed in the "HD Bonus Content" section below). These first three cuts are mainly comprised of scene extensions, and haven't been completely finished (storyboards are used to fill the gaps). Anderson introduces each one to explain the reasoning behind the deletions.
Rounding out the package are several odds and ends: a scientific featurette called "Inventions that Shaped the World" (480i/p, 6 minutes); two music videos from Rob Thomas and the Jonas Brothers (480i/p, 6 minutes); and an interactive family tree trivia game called "Family Function 5000" (be warned, the game may prove to be a bit tough for kids to tackle on their own).
'Meet the Robinsons' is a crowd pleaser that will engage the kids at the same time it entertains mom and dad. This Blu-ray release is up to the task as well, featuring a beautiful transfer, an impressive PCM audio mix, all of the supplements from the standard DVD, and some exclusive HD bonuses as well. An easy recommend all around.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.