Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review: Meet the Robinsons, and The Catharsis of The New Disney.

Lamentably, in all of Toronto, MTR is only playing in 3D in the wastelands of suburbia. Figure that one out. Nevertheless, I braved the crowds and checked it out in plain ol' 2D, and I'm happy to report I enjoyed the heck out of it.

For starters, 'Robinsons' doesn't come across nearly so desperate or forced in its humor as Chicken Little or Open Season, and never approaches the overall dullness of every WDFA feature since The Lion King (though I myself am not a fan) The time-travel story contains some genuine surprises (even though they're likely to go over the heads of kids) and Lewis is easily the most deeply-felt Disney protag since Lilo.

Even better, the film is marvellously flatulence-free, light on pop-culture nonsense, (seriously, who's still watching the original Shrek? Even the trailers for Shrek the Third feel tired before the film's even been released) and never sinks into peurility or crassness for the sake of squeezing a cheap laugh out of the kiddies while their parents frown and lament the state of family fare. The family-discovery-time-travel plot crackles under the machinations of a villain named Bowler Hat Guy. A classic developmentally-arrested baddie with bad teeth and a penchant for hilariously vaudevillian moustache-twirling.

There was so much good stuff I just wished it would slow down. I wanted to spend more time in this world and get to know the characters a little better. Another 5-7 minutes, perhaps added to the perfunctory character introductions could have made it perfect. But perhaps such a degree of cohesiveness is too much to ask from a film with seven credited writers, not including the gargantuan re-writes 'recommended' by WDFA's new Chief Creative Officer, Pixar helmsman John Lasseter.

Despite these quibbles, Robinsons is still a wonderful cinematic achievement. But more importantly, it does an admirable job as a symbol for the change in the Disney culture that the film is obviously intended to represent. Shaking off years of mediocre films with equally disappointing boxoffice and critical reaction, plus the recent talk of canning their justifiably-maligned direct-to-video division, the Disney brass is obviously hoping Robinsons is going to represent a turnaround in their theatrical image after over a decade of trouncing by Pixar and Dreamworks.

Indeed, the entire production seems infused with a spirit of cathartic healing. From the newly designed/presented WDFA logo intended to cement Walt Disney Feature Animation's own unique and distinct identity with a clear link to its roots, to the classic Mickey Mouse short that precedes the film (a rare and magical theatrical experience all by itself, particularly for fans of vintage animation) to the epilogue quote by Walt at the end, the entire production screams "Things will be different from now on. We promise."

Here's hoping. If the Robinsons are any indication, they're off to a solid start at a promising rebirth. Just don't be afraid to slow down a bit now, guys. Please?


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