The adage "the more the merrier" doesn't apply to screenwriters. Anything over four writers and we're talking about warning bells; with the seven listed for "Meet the Robinsons," we're talking Big Ben.
This animated adventure isn't a disaster, but it isn't very good, either. It's got a ton of energy, and the 3D animation is nifty. But the humor is scattershot to the max, and the plot lacks focus. It's way below the typical Disney standards, and a postscript that tries to turn the movie into a homage to Walt Disney is so crass that it leaves us cringing.
The official inspiration for the movie is "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" by children's author William Joyce. But if you didn't know that, you'd be more likely to assume that it was spun off from the "Jimmy Neutron" TV series.
The story involves a science wiz-kid, Lewis (voiced by Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry). He builds a memory-reading brain-scanning device that is stolen by a time-traveling bad guy (director Stephen J. Anderson). Lewis is recruited by another time-traveler, Wilbur (Wesley Singerman), who whisks him off to 2037 in pursuit of the purloined science project.
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The plot bounces around like a pinball as the writers try to work in jokes, often appearing not to care whether they fit the rest of the movie. The story occasionally bumps up against a "meaningful" message - it's not shameful to fail if you learn something from the experience - that is delivered with a complete failure of subtlety.
Young viewers are likely to plug into the hyper pacing, but there is precious little in the way of cleverness aimed at adults. One of the few such offerings involves Wilbur bragging that his father looks like Tom Selleck, which isn't the least bit true but produces a smile later when we hear Selleck providing the dad's voice.
The 3D computer animation is impressive, in that it's not overpowering. Anderson, making his first feature film (although he has directed for straight-to-video), could have turned this into a gimmick movie. Instead, he shows admirable restraint, using just enough 3D effect to give the images a realistic texture.
He borrows liberally from other time-travel movies. Too bad he couldn't borrow a time machine to go back and fix some of the problems with the script.
** out of fours stars.