It's rare that the extras on a DVD make me take a second look at a movie. But combine that with my family absolutely loving a movie that I was lukewarm towards, and Meet the Robinsons earned that rethink.
In several places on the extras, Director Stephen Anderson certainly admits to the struggles he had putting the film together. Based on a wacky children's book by William Joyce, the project had bounced around Disney since the early nineties. Anderson came in and tried to streamline a screenplay that struggled to give a plot to what was really a series of fantastic images but little else.
Joyce himself appears in a documentary about the film's development, revealing that the Robinsons are all hyper-exaggerated versions of his own family. So if you're a seven foot uncle claiming to your credulous nephews that you're from outer space, watch out. At any rate, one of the strengths of Meet the Robinsons is how much of Joyce's creativity and spontaneity make it onto the screen, and you can see that reflected in his segment on the DVD.
Linking that with Anderson's own personal story as an adoptee, the film still needed a theme. The extras definitely hammer that theme home - let go of the past and keep moving forward. It took them a while to move forward enough to get that.
Yet it clearly strikes a chord. Late in the project's development Anderson discovered a quote from Walt Disney using those same words, and found the inspiration to bring it on home. Musician Rob Thomas embraced it for his contribution, "Little Wonders," the video of which is included on the disc. What Thomas didn't know was that opening with the words "let it go…" would fit so perfectly, as he'd only seen a few moments of the movie.
Somehow utterly escaping me the first time watching was the contribution of Danny Elfman. The elusive Elfman sits down for an interview, and in his collaboration with The All-American Rejects, you can see some sort of hope that maybe he could start writing for other bands to perform if he himself will not go back to Oingo Boingo. (It's apparently a hearing issue.) That might not sell you on this movie, but it was worth mentioning to Elfman fans.
So not many kids know about Oingo Boingo, but watching that might awaken a taste. One thing Disney DVDs focus on in painless ways is education. Every DVD lobs a few factoid bombs kids' way, and it's effective.
Here, Disney includes a featurette on famous inventions and inventors throughout history, a much shorter version of the kind of features the studio would put together for its Sunday night show The Wonderful World of Disney. Though it confused my youngest as to why Donald Duck would be dressed as a caveman to illustrate the invention of the wheel, it's still a pretty zippy feature with some key ideas.
So it comes back around to Walt Disney - the truth is, the guy was an amazing visionary, and both the featurette and Anderson's film pays tribute to that, as does Anderson in his commentary. Walt couldn't guide the director, but John Lasseter could, and the DVD package somewhat downplays the rumors of Lasseter's involvement. That's okay - we also got a couple of Pixar films to chew on last week.
For Meet the Robinsons, I ended up trying to look at it through my kids' eyes, and it stands as bright and fun. The story still doesn't quite work for me, but the message does. And that's through the eyes of a father that watches a whole heck of a lot more movies than his kids do. For now, I appreciate that it's earnest, kind and not insulting to either my kids' intelligence or my own. Plus it's got singing frogs.
Meet the Robinsons