Sunday, April 15, 2007

It'll poke your eye out

I saw a pretty cool movie yesterday, so here's my thoughts on

Meet the Robinsons (in digital 3-D) (2007, directed by Stephen J. Anderson):

I had heard the 3-D version of this movie was cool, but I didn't expect it to be as awesome as this was. It was downright amazing, comparable to the experience of watching the original Toy Story. That was the first full-length computer-animated movie, and I remember being amazed at the visuals, thinking it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. However, while the beginning of the movie was almost overwhelming in the level of visuals, by the end of the movie I had gotten used to them and become more focused on the story. Meet the Robinsons was a similar experience, with the depth of the graphics wowing me at the beginning, but eventually becoming almost commonplace as the story became the real focus.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The program is put together really well; after the usual previews, there's a short sequence in which the robot character Carl (voiced by Harland Williams) tells the audience to don their 3-D glasses. He then extends his head right out of the screen and literally gets in your face, joking about people putting their glasses on wrong. He seems so close that you could reach out and touch him. It's a real "wow!" moment; I think I even heard a couple kids crying because it scared them. After this sequence, there's a preview of a 3-D version of The Nightmare Before Christmas (I think it comes out around Halloween), and a presentation of a short Donald Duck/Chip and Dale cartoon that was made back in the 50's when 3-D was first becoming popularized. It's a fun little amusement, but it really serves to show how far the technology has come. In the two-dimensional, hand-drawn cartoon, the 3-D looks kind of awkward; the illusion of depth often makes two or three flat layers seem to be "in front of" or "behind" each other. While it's kind of cool, it doesn't look realistic at all. But it's a smart move, because when the feature presentation starts, we're amazed at the sense of reality. The opening scene features a woman dropping off a baby at an orphanage on a rainy night, and the illusion of depth is amazing. The buildings, streets, cars, and even raindrops all look perfect; it's like you're watching the scene through a window. It's a good way to get used to the look of the effect, since there will be plenty of fast-paced action later; this serves to immerse us in the world of the film.

As for the story, it's pretty good too. The main character is Lewis, the child who was dropped off in the opening scene. He's a mechanical whiz, always coming up with wacky inventions. Of course, these often malfunction and wreak havoc around the orphanage, so he has been unable to charm and prospective adoptive parents. He gets the idea to look for his real mom by inventing a memory scanner that will be able to dredge an image of her from the recesses of his brain. But things don't go as planned, and disaster strikes when he tries to present his invention at the school science fair. A strange man with a robotic bowler hat (he's known as "Bowler Hat Guy" for most of the movie) sabotages his presentation, making him feel worthless and wanting to give up inventing. But a strange kid named Wilbur shows up, tells him it's important that he fix his invention, then whisks him away to the future to see how his actions will change the world.

In the future, he ends up hanging around with Wilbur's family, a collection of misfits headed by the absent Cornelius Robinson, who is apparently the shaper of the world of the future. And it's a cool world, filled with inflatable buildings and people transporting themselves around via giant soap bubbles and pneumatic tubes. The Robinson family is sure bizarre though. In trailers for the movie, I was kind of put off by the manic atmosphere that was hinted at; it seemed like the typical wacky kids' movie characters. But in the movie itself, they fit pretty well. Lewis is taken on a breakneck tour of the nutso family, meeting a couple guys who live in flower pots, a giant squid butler, a superheroish pizza delivery guy (voiced by Adam West!), a man who races life-size model trains by shooting himself out of a cannon, a fat slob who can't get up from his TV chair, a guy whose "wife" is a hand puppet, and a woman who conducts a band composed of frogs. It's so insanely bizarre, I couldn't help but be charmed by it.

Much of the plot involves Wilbur trying to get Lewis to fix the time machine in which they came to the future, while Bowler Hat Guy (who stole the family's backup time machine) tries to kidnap him. He's a hilarious villain, by the way. He's quite insane, thirsting for nonsensical vengeance and coming up with ridiculous plans. Probably my favorite character in the movie (due, I suspect, to the Snidely Whiplash mustache). Morals soon emerge (specifically Don't Give Up and Family Is Important), but they're pretty seamlessly integrated into the plot, never feeling like characters have to stop the action to give a speech. Nicely done all around.

I'm not sure if I would feel the same way about the movie in 2-D, but if you see the 3-D version it's a great experience. I'm as surprised as anyone to see a good non-Pixar animated movie from Disney, but Pixar's John Lasseter was involved, so maybe the company is turning around. I'll definitely give it my recommendation; bring some kids and have a swell time!

Comics reviews later today, I hope. Come back and see!