There are many great time travel films out there for viewing, but a lot of them aren’t suitable for the whole family. Meet The Robinsons fills that niche very nicely. It’s about as harmless, and fun, as a time travel film can get.
This film features several themes that make up many types of time travel films, including family, the hero time travel giving birth to his own future, and the use of contrasting the characters past to their future. And while this is a Walt Disney film, designed for younger audiences, it definitely deals with some very adult ideas.
Lewis, a young, super-intelligent orphan, is distraught after his experiment fails to work at the local science fair. He is visited by a mysterious boy named Wilbur Robinson in a time machine. The two return to the future and see all the wonderful things there, including Wilbur’s eclectic and very eccentric family. Wilbur explains that Lewis must help him stop the “bowler hat man” who has stolen the Robinsons’ other time machine and is threatening the past by having stolen Lewis’ memory scanner experiment to pass off as his own.
As things progress we discover that patriarch of this eccentric future family is none other than Lewis himself, while Bowler Hat Man is Lewis’s roommate from the orphanage, Michael ‘Goob’ Yagoobian. Goob blamed Lewis for the way his life turned out and instead of “moving forward” a phrase omnipresent in the future, he festered on the pain of his past. It turns out that Lewis, with the love and support of a family blossomed, while Goob, left alone in the orphanage for 30 years became a bitter and twisted wretch. The family is a very strong element of the story. Lewis is constantly searching for a family to take him from the orphanage. Once he discovers that the time machine exists, he asks Wilbur to take him back in time so he can see his mother, who left him on the steps of the orphanage as a baby. All told, the film equates the power of the love and support of a family as a powerful force. The absence of this is equally powerful, as it causes Goob to turn into a mustache-twirling, bowler hat wearing villain.
This film also features a pretty hefty paradox, as do many other time travel films. Wilbur, Lewis’s son, comes from the future with a time machine to save/warn Lewis of the impending problem of the Bowler Hat man. It’s only thru the use of the time machine that they are able to travel even further in the past to alter the events that cause Goob to resent Lewis. Without any time travel, Lewis would not have returned to the science fair, meet his adoptive parents and become the great inventor in the future that he sees when he travels there. But I forgive these sort of conundrums for the most part, since the journey is such a fun one. It’s funny that in horrible time travel films, the paradoxes are glaring, but if the story is ample enough, I just don’t care. That’s the beauty of quality story and characters.
Another great element is the use of characters being able to examine their future from the vantage point of their past, or vice-versa. Would that humans had this ability for real, as it would make for a much kinder and thoughtful world. The best that we can do, is ruminate on the past and strive not to make the same mistakes in the future. And that’s where the phrase “keep moving forward” comes from. Wilbur’s family applauds Lewis’s mistakes, because without them, there’s no progress. The filmmakers want to impress upon the audience that setbacks are part of life, and as important as the greatest discoveries. This phrase is actually attributed to Walt Disney, in a larger quote, that is shown at the end of the film. I find it very poignant, and heartwarming, that a Disney film draws its inspiration from their own founder.
“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney
One funny touch from this film, that I really laughed at was Wilbur describing his father to Lewis (remember: Lewis is unaware that he is Wilbur’s dad in the future.) Wilbur describes him as Tom Selleck. When we finally meet the older Lewis, who has changed his name to Cornelius [because eccentric family], his character is voiced by Tom Selleck. Very clever, guys!