Tagline: If you think your family’s different, wait ’til you meet the family of the future.
If you think your family is different, wait until you Meet the Robinsons, the family from an amazing, hilarious, inventive future where anything is possible. In this time-traveling blast of a comedy event, Walt Disney Feature Animation’s latest digital animation technology will jet audiences to an inventive, unexpected techno realm of tomorrow where the wildest dreams come true… including those of a young inventor in search of a home.
The story begins with Lewis, a boy-genius with a love of gizmos and gadgets and an undying hope of finding the family he never knew. But Lewis’ journey is about to take him to a place even he couldn’t have imagined, a place where the impossible no longer exists: the future. When Lewis encounters a mysterious stranger named Wilbur Robinson, he’s in for the time-travel of his life and will be whisked off to meet a family unlike any other – the sublimely fun and futuristic Robinsons – who will help him to discover a series of amazing and heartfelt secrets about his own limitless potential.
But his incredible trip will also bring him into conflict with a villain who gives evil a bad name: the bungling Bowler Hat Guy, who steals Lewis’ only way home. Filled with unforgettable characters, clever contraptions, classic villains and all kinds of eye-popping exuberance, Meet the Robinsons continues in the beloved Disney legacy of looking ahead to a dazzling world of tomorrow – as it unfolds a story about believing in family, yourself and the wide open future.
A Quick Family Who’s Who
LEWIS is an orphan with a genius IQ and a passion for inventing. His offbeat nature and unintentionally disastrous inventions keep him from obtaining the one thing he longs for the most – a family to call his own. He believes his only chance is to find his real mother, so he invents the Memory Scanner, a machine that will extract his memory of her.
WILBUR ROBINSON is a mysterious stranger from the future whose biggest flaws – self-confidence, cocky attitude and fast-talking banter – are also his greatest assets. They enable Wilbur to stay one step ahead of his adversaries. Knowing that Lewis holds the key to the future, Wilbur whisks him away in his time machine where the two battle a ferocious dinosaur, mind-controlled frogs and evil villains all in an effort to save the world as Wilbur knows it.
CORNELIUS ROBINSON is Wilbur’s father and is known as the “founder of the future.” He is an amazing inventor and the beloved owner of Robinson Industries.
FRANNY ROBINSON is Wilbur’s effervescent mother who has discovered a way to teach frogs how to sing and play big band music.
CARL is the suave Robinson family robot, serving the family’s every need with wit and charm. In addition, he has the unfortunate job of constantly getting Wilbur out of trouble. Carl also has a way with the ladies, and by ladies, we mean the dishwasher, the coffee maker and the teapot.
GRANDPA BUD may seem weird to the outside world but inside the Robinson house, he just views life a little differently … and likes to wear his clothes backward while constantly searching for his teeth.
GRANDMA LUCILLE can really “bake those cookies,” according to Grandpa Bud, but that’s just his way of saying she loves to disco dance. In truth, Grandma Lucille is as far from a typical cookie-baking grandma as you can get.
UNCLE ART is a heroic-looking intergalactic pizza deliveryman who takes his work very seriously. His mission in life, as he pilots his spacecraft through the solar system, is to deliver the perfect pizza within minutes anywhere in the galaxy.
AUNT BILLIE has been obsessed with toy trains since she was a little kid. Now that she’s all grown up, she still plays with toy trains. Only now they’re life-sized and travel all through the Robinson house.
UNCLE GASTON likes to shoot himself out of a cannon and race Aunt Billie’s train.
UNCLE FRITZ and AUNT PETUNIA have a strange marriage. She’s very cranky and endlessly tongue-lashes Uncle Fritz. She is also a hand puppet.
UNCLE JOE likes to workout by watching exercise shows on TV, all from the comfort of his recliner.
COUSIN LASZLO paints murals as he flies around in his propeller helmet.
COUSIN TALLULAH is a fashionista who wears a skyscraper hat.
LEFTY is a one-eyed purple octopus and the family butler.
UNCLE SPIKE and UNCLE DIMITRI live in the ceramic pots on the front porch. They are sort of the Robinsons’ human alarm system. Touch their pots and they scream.
A Fantastic, Futuristic Family Robinson: About the Origins
“The theme of our film encapsulated into one phrase is this: keep moving forward,” says Steve Anderson, the director of Meet the Robinsons, who has spent the last several years building the spectacular future world in which the Robinson family carries out their wildest, weirdest and most whimsical dreams to the hilt. “Through meeting the incredible Robinson family, our orphaned hero Lewis learns to live for the future, to live for where you are going next and for all the things you can do, instead of getting stuck on the things that didn’t work in the past.”
Anderson — who cut his teeth in the Disney story department on such hand-drawn hits as “Brother Bear” and “The Emperor’s New Groove” — and his team have invested blood, sweat and vast terabytes into bringing this ambitious digital project to fruition.But for Anderson there was a singular motivation: he long ago fell madly in love with the characters of Meet the Robinsons, characters so fresh and original he felt they would add a whole new dimension to Disney’s legacy of memorable storytelling. From orphanage caretakers to singing frogs, from eccentric grandparents to morphing robots, from boyish heroes to an evil bowler hat, Anderson loved that this story dared to cover the full territory between the ridiculous and the sublimely emotional. The fact that the story also explores a not-so-distant future jam-packed with the joy of sleek bubble vehicles, ingenious travel tubes and havoc-wreaking time machines only added to the irresistible creative appeal.
“What I love about the Robinsons is that they’re adults but they live life with all the zest, fervor and uninhibited playfulness of kids,” Anderson continues. “The Robinsons believe that if you have a dream, you should just go for it. So if you want to wear your clothes backwards – why not? If you want to shoot yourself out of a cannon – fantastic! They’re very funny because their reactions are so unpredictable, but they are also an inspiration because they live their lives in ways you would never expect and do things no one else does.”
Lewis’ remarkable journey to meet the Robinsons is nearly derailed, however, by a range of threats, from time-traveling dinosaurs to an alternate Evil Future filled with greed and grime, and the biggest threat of all – that Lewis might give up on his dream of finding a family and making a better world. This driving theme truly hit home hard for Anderson, who was himself adopted as an infant.
“It was the weirdest experience for me when I received the script, because I was instantly fused to it. I immediately understood this boy and all his questions about where he came from and why he was abandoned,” Anderson recalls. “I felt so fortunate to be given material that I could connect to so deeply. I knew from the beginning that this would be so much more than just a crazy time-travel story for me. It was always my focus to make Lewis’ quest for love and hope the emotional core of the story and to really deepen that throughout.”
The evolution of Meet the Robinsons began with the astonishing world of William Joyce’s illustrated book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, which presented a portrait of a family unlike any other – a family of madcap inventors and dreamers who considered having family robots, a singing frog band and an octopus for a butler completely normal. Though the book offered a very simple story, the real draw was the world it created, filled with all kinds of hilarious and surprising details that riveted readers of all ages.
Disney had originally acquired A Day with Wilbur Robinson in order to make a live-action feature – that is, until the Feature Animation department discovered the story and its prime potential to mesh with the unbridled, unlimited imaginative powers of today’s animated filmmaking. The script turned the story of this free-wheeling family into something entirely fresh: a time-travel adventure which takes place all in one incredible day, a day that gives the orphan Lewis plenty of unexpected reasons to believe in a fantastic future on which he almost gave up.
“Anderson was intrigued by the initial script – and by how it forged a rare picture of a future that truly lives up to the concept. “I was drawn to the idea that Lewis travels to a future you almost never see, one that’s prosperous, creative and optimistic,” says Anderson. “He gets to see that the possibility is there for the future to be beautiful and brilliant and a vision of real hope.”
“The Experiment”: Developing the Robinsons and Their World
Steve Anderson would now get a chance to turn that vision of the future into an amazing animated universe. To kick off the project, Walt Disney Feature Animation asked the fledgling director to try something so unprecedented they simply called it “The Experiment.” Explains Anderson, “The Experiment was this – to take the script and story-board the whole thing from A to Z. You have to understand that this was previously unheard of at Disney. Usually, you would board the first act of a film and then get some notes and then move on to the second act and go through the same process.
But in just six months, we boarded the entire thing in one go, said our entire piece, and put it up on reels. It was a huge mountain to climb but our story crew had no fear in achieving it.” Soon, the Robinsons and all the whimsical characters who surround them began to come to life. The team carefully started to craft the first layers of quirks, oddities and humor-filled personalities that would ultimately add up to the Robinson’s world – and make them not only fun but relatable, loving and full of heart. Indeed, Anderson got so into the process of developing the characters that he ended up performing the voices for three of them, including the bumbling Bowler Hat Guy, the delightfully unusual Grandpa Bud and the fashionable Cousin Tallulah.
Anderson worked closely at this stage with the film’s Head of Story, Don Hall, another Disney veteran. Right from the start, Hall’s enthusiasm for the project was bubbling over. “I’ve never seen another movie like this. It’s a completely unique experience,” he says. “There are many familiar elements from Disney movies in that it’s about families and adventure and hope – but they way they’re all thrown into the mix together is completely new and different.”
Hall explains how the wildly creative process of conjuring the storyboards for Meet the Robinsons worked. “Steve, the story guys and I were basically the first strike team, trying out a billion different ideas,” he says. “What we really wanted to do was make sure each of the characters would bring their own unforgettable comic point of view. Every single one has a distinctive personality and look that we spent a lot of time thinking about, playing with and perfecting.”
After six months, “The Experiment” came to a close and the proof was, as they say, in the pudding. “When we showed the storyboards on reels to the entire animation team it was a scary moment but the response was overwhelming,” recalls Anderson. “In my entire career at Disney I’d never heard of such a swell of support for a story. People really made their voices heard, saying, `You have got to make this movie.’ We were tickled to see that so many people at Disney now loved these characters as much as we did.”
Anderson credits the fact that he allowed the free spirit of the Robinsons to permeate the entire creative process – encouraging everyone involved to push past all known boundaries. Also collaborating with Anderson on this mission was the film’s producer, Dorothy McKim, who would help shepherd the project from page to storyboard to digital imagery of the future as it’s never been seen before. Like Anderson, McKim found that meeting the Robinsons for the first time was an exhilarating experience. “Meet the Robinsons is comedy but it’s got so much soul,” she says. “Lewis and the Robinsons are all inventors, so everything they do is inventive, which made for an incredibly creative process.”
McKim especially liked the fact that this is also one animated tale with a mix of fun, action and adventure, as well as a number of surprise twists. “Unlike traditional Disney movies of the past, there are a few major `gotchas’ in Meet the Robinsons, such as secret identities and surprises from the future,” she muses.
Meet the Robinsons later met up with further inspiration, this time from the new Chief Creative Officer for Disney and Pixar Studios, animation pioneer John Lasseter. “John has set the bar in animated storytelling,” says Dorothy McKim, “and his input helped make a great movie even greater. He helped to bring even more heart and comedy to the movie.”
For Steve Anderson, that mix of heart and comedy puts Meet the Robinsons squarely inside the grand Disney tradition, even as it forges a brave new digital future. “The strength of Disney movies has always been the characters – that’s what they’ve given the world,” he says. “Audiences fall in love with the good guys and the bad guys because they all connect. Meet the Robinsons has these same kinds of characters. They’re fun, they’re unpredictable, but they also have an aspect that is very emotional and human. I think that’s what audiences expect from Walt Disney, that you’re going to laugh, you might cry and you’re definitely going to care about these characters. For me, I love these characters like they’re my own family and can’t wait to have audiences meet them.”
A Future Like No Other: Forging the Film’s Design
As Meet the Robinsons jets off into an electrifying sci-fi vision of an out-of-this-world future, the filmmakers faced the exciting challenge of making that future an animated reality. In coming up with an overall artistic vision for the film, director Steve Anderson wove together many influences: “It all started with the beautiful images and great characters from William Joyce’s book, then with the equally creative script, then with all the great ideas that came out of the storyboarding process followed by the incredible contributions of our design team,” he explains. “Every step of the way, the creativity just kept flowing and we just kept pushing forward. What came out of it all is an incredible array of designs that have a real child-like point-of-view. They realize a lot of childhood dreams. I mean who wouldn’t want to float around in bubbles flying through the air or who wouldn’t want to wear a propeller hat or have a family robot who can do all kinds of cool things? This is a world I think anybody would love to visit.”
Anderson and the design team began by forging distinct design rules for each of the three different time periods of the story: The Present, The Good Future and The Evil Future. The director explains: “We knew that we needed the future where Lewis meets the Robinsons to stand out in bold contrast with where Lewis is right now, so the present is filled only with boxy, rectangular shapes and lots of sharp angles and edges, whereas the Robinsons’ future is all curves and circles, inspired by the very soft, rounded and comforting images in William Joyce’s book. And, contrasting with both of these, the Evil Future is very, very bad indeed.”
In coming up with a driving aesthetic, Anderson and his team were especially inspired by the Futurism seen in the industrial design movement of the 1930s and 40s. “We all loved the optimism and the complete and total commitment to creating something greater that you see in those images,” Anderson explains. “We took a lot of our cues from that and from the curving forms of the 1930s architectural style known as Streamline Moderne — so this exciting future also has a kind of fun, Retro feel to it. This really resonates with the theme of the story, because we were constantly looking back to the past to build the picture of the future.”
Equally influential on the design was the forward-thinking vision of Walt Disney himself. The film even pays homage to Walt Disney’s own take on the future, “Tomorrowland,” with its fun twist of “Todayland.”
The visually invigorating mix of Retro and Futuristic also extended to the film’s non-stop assemblage of inventions – ranging from the Lewis’ rag-tag Memory Scanner pieced together out of a mélange of scrap parts and Peanut Butter and Jelly Making Machine of the present world to the moving sidewalks, monorails, travel tubes and insta-skyscrapers of the Robinsons’ futuristic world.
To create the film’s endlessly innovative sets and props, Anderson worked closely with art director Robh Ruppel, who previously served as production designer on the traditionally animated “Brother Bear.” Ruppel, who began his career as an industrial design major at Art Center College in Pasadena (where he has also served as a teacher), had a blast taking off into the future with digital tools at his disposal. “Robh really took every element of the film’s design to another level,” says Anderson.
Ruppel knew immediately that Meet the Robinsons would be the creative challenge of a lifetime. “There are so many different looks and elements and palettes to this story,” he muses. “No matter where you are in the story, there’s always something visually exciting going on.”
Ruppel and Anderson agreed right off the bat that one of the most visually interesting elements of the present had to be Lewis himself. “Lewis doesn’t really belong in the present world, so he’s the brightest thing in it,” notes Ruppel. “He’s red, yellow and blue and he’s always clashing with the world around him until he arrives in the future, where he fits right in. His world at the orphanage is a little claustrophobic, very patterned and boxed-in a little too tight, but the future is wide open, full of blue skies and a clean, unobstructed view. The shapes move from squares and rectangles to sleek, rounded shapes. The palette also completely shifts from the present to the future – from muted to sharp and bright.”
When it came to forging the city of the future in which the Robinsons live, the designer took cues from William Joyce’s book, as well as from a number of influential 1930s and 40s designers including: Raymond Loewy, the “father of industrial design” whose work spanned from cars to spacecraft and who lived by his own famous MAYA principle – meaning “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”; Harold Van Doren, who brought skyscraper shapes and lustrous, streamlined design to such everyday objects as bicycles and radios; and the prolific Henry Dreyfuss, whose forward-thinking designs ranged from the first-ever answering machine to the Hoover vacuum cleaner.
“We were very influenced by retro-futuristic shapes in creating the future city and all the Robinsons’ household inventions,” Ruppel explains, “but we updated them by using newer materials, like what Apple does, with lots of anodized, iridescent finishes.”
As for some of his favorite sets, Ruppel has trouble choosing, but picks three: the Robinsons’ garage, Cornelius’ laboratory and the Evil Future. “The Robinsons’ garage is a like a 1950s car showroom, all sleek and with that bank of lights keeping things very bright,” says Ruppel. “And I love Cornelius’ laboratory because it’s filled with so much whimsy. But the Evil Future is also awesome because its really pushes the edge more than usual in a Disney film. It’s based very much on Doris’ dark vision of the future, so all the architecture is centered on the theme of bowler hat shapes. But it’s also one giant, grungy, polluted, petroleum bowl.”
For Ruppel, one of the biggest challenges was lighting this complicated digital world, especially since the story takes place all in one day, from sunrise to sundown, with constantly progressing light conditions. “It’s a bit like working in the dark when you’re lighting with virtual tools,” he notes. “It’s something you take for granted on a live action film but it’s a very challenging process in digital animation and I’m really pleased with how well the lighting turned out.”
The integrated vision of the entire design was gratifying to Steve Anderson. He cites the Memory Scanner as one of his favorite props. “It feels like something a child would invent. It’s very organic and made up of found objects and it’s really got that great Retro feeling,” he says. “The Memory Scanner is also especially close to my heart because of its emotional resonances and all that it means to Lewis.”
Another of Anderson’s favorite designs blurs the line between prop and character – the wicked bowler hat, Doris. “Doris was an idea that came along when we were looking for a reason for Bowler Hat Guy to always be wearing a bowler hat,” he notes. “Then we hit upon the fun idea of a `hench hat’ who is also an invention that went very wrong. Like all of the other design elements in the film, Doris has an organic reason for being how she is. Form follows function in our designs which helps to give everything that cool factor.”
The Cast Meets the Robinsons: Crafting the Characters
The heart of Meet the Robinsons is the orphan boy who is whisked from a world in which he has just about given up hope to a world where anything and everything is not only possible, but expected to happen! This is 12 year-old Lewis, the film’s time-traveling young hero, who Steve Anderson describes as “someone who thinks differently than the rest of the world.”
Lewis’ main goal in life is to find his family, which is why he invents the Memory Scanner, a remarkable machine that allows a person to see into the past – although Lewis will later realize he needs to switch directions and head towards the future to resolve his quest. The director explains: “Lewis wants to make a better world through inventions, but his inventions are a little bit odd, and it’s not what families who come to the orphanage are looking for. Lewis’ hopes of ever finding a family, or his real mother, are just about dashed until he meets Wilbur Robinson, who restores his hope in the future by bringing him into it!”
As outcast as Lewis might feel at the outset of his story, he might ultimately be one of the least eccentric characters in Meet the Robinsons – because he is about to be surrounded by a group of people who definitely who put the “free” in free spirited. To bring the film’s remarkably diverse characters to life, the filmmakers recruited a group of actors from all walks of life – ranging from Oscar nominees to behind-the-scenes animators who are rarely heard on screen. Comments Steve Anderson: “I’m so excited about the cast that we have. We have people from all kinds of backgrounds, who are experienced in comedy, in television, in theatre, in cartoons and especially improv and because of that, they were able to create characters in a truly bigger-than-life sense. They have taken these wonderful characters even beyond what we imagined.”
The cast includes Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett, who portrays Mildred, the sweet and patient caretaker at the 6th Street Orphanage that has always been home to Lewis, ever since Mildred first found him on her doorstep as an infant. Bassett loved the story’s comic-tinged take on the wonders of family. “I really appreciated this story about a little boy who’s looking for a family and about how there’s many ways to make family,” she says. “As a new mom, I found it especially appealing.”
Bassett got to exercise all her maternal instincts as Mildred. “Mildred’s ambition, her dream, her occupation and her greatest commitment is to finding each and every one of her orphanage kids a loving family, one who will see them for who they are and love and appreciate their own special uniqueness,” the actress explains. In the case of Lewis, however, that search has hit a dead-end, much to Mildred’s chagrin. After all, Mildred loves all her kids, but she has a special place in her heart for Lewis. “She understands how different Lewis is, how he marches to beat of his own drummer,” says Bassett. “I think she sees a little Albert Einstein in the making.” As much as Bassett enjoyed creating Mildred’s voice, one of the biggest thrills for her was seeing the character come to life in all her animated glory. “She has a fantastic look, so endearing and cute. With her little eyeglasses and hairdo, I loved it. To me it’s amazing what the animators have come up with on this film,” she sums up.
Another major star who lends his voice to Meet the Robinsons is Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Tom Selleck, whose tough-guy charisma was a perfect match for the vast optimism and fearless genius of Cornelius Robinson, the accomplished inventor and beloved head of Robinson Enterprises, which turns out world-altering gadgets by the score.
“He might be animated but Cornelius Robinson is just a great character – a brilliant, optimistic family man who has proved that just about anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” says Selleck. “I admire that he’s someone who knows what counts and believes wholeheartedly in his family, no matter how unusual they are. It was a very fun challenge for me as an actor to imagine being in his world.”
Also joining in on the fun is popular comedian, trained animator and children’s book author Harland Williams who has been seen in numerous hit film comedies of the last decade and is also known for playing the beloved character of Lug in the animated feature hit “Robots.” Williams plays one of the Robinsons’ most complicated – and not just mechanically complicated – family members: the household robot Carl. “Carl is this zany robot, who is kind of insecure, yet also over-confident at the same time. He creates a lot of drama and excitement in everybody’s life,” Williams explains. “He’s not human, so that makes him a bit of an outsider but he also has a real bond with Wilbur.”
Williams had tons of fun figuring out how to portray Carl. “For my voice, I was inspired by the idea that Carl is always excited and ready to go. He doesn’t drink coffee, but he’s been dipping into the high-grade oil, man, and that makes him a little hyper!”
Speaking of hyper, more of the film’s hilarious hijinx come from Dr. Lucille Krunklehorn, an inventor whose latest gizmo is a caffeine patch that gives her the jolt of twelve cups of coffee. Needless to say, she hasn’t slept in days! Playing Dr. Krunklehorn is multiple Emmy Award winner and Golden Globe nominee Laurie Metcalf, who has recently been seen in a recurring role on the popular TV hit “Desperate Housewives” and whose animated work includes playing Andy’s mom in the classic “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.”
Metcalf was drawn to Meet the Robinsons after she fell in love with the family. “One of the things I loved about the script is the idea of a family that celebrates failure,” she comments. “The whole family rallies around anyone who fails at something and even welcomes it – because they realize that without failure you can never have success. I also loved how they each express who they are in their own unique way and every single one is so different. I wanted to get to know this family for real because they are so welcoming and wonderful.”
Like many of the cast members, Metcalf was astonished to see Dr. Krunklehorn in her full animated incarnation. “I was just ecstatic because I couldn’t take my eyes off her,” she says. “I love her facial expressions and I thought she was an amazing actor thanks to the work of the animators.”
Meanwhile, the literally whiz-bang role of intergalactic pizza man Uncle Art went to Adam West, the veteran star of screen and television best known for his long-running role as television’s Bruce Wayne/Batman. West was knocked out by the screenplay’s humor. “I thought it was so witty and a wonderful family story,” he says. “The Robinsons are quirky but they also have a lot of the qualities and characteristics of real families.” As for playing a man who promises to deliver a pie anywhere in the galaxy in a half an hour, West says: “These characters are so inventive and interesting, they’re going to be loved by a lot of people.”
Ethan Sandler, a writer and actor renowned for his incredible versatility with voices — most recently seen starring as ADA Jeffrey Brandau on “Crossing Jordan” – takes on a whopping eight characters in , including the evil bowler hat Doris who hatches a secret plot against Lewis, as well as Uncle Fritz, Aunt Petunia, Cousin Laszlo, Uncle Dmitri, Uncle Spike and The CEO. In coming up with an outrageous range of strange sounds, surprising noises and magnificent manners of speech, Sandler developed his own method of figuring out whether each of his different voices was working: “With each different voice, I would just try to make Steve Anderson laugh – if he was laughing, then I knew I should just keep doing that!” he remarks.
Sandler adds: “I look at the Robinsons as sort of a big jazz band so it was a matter of trying to figure out what instrument each person should play. It was pretty much trial-and-error until everyone was in hysterics. The drawings of the characters made me want to raise the bar even higher, and match those incredibly funny faces.”
As for his depiction of the film’s true villain – diabolical Doris, the “hench hat” that sits on the otherwise bumbling Bowler Hat Guy’s head – Sandler says: “Doris’s voice is pretty much as many squeaks and sounds as I could come up with in one combination!”
To play Wilbur Robinson, the kid from the future who changes Lewis’ life forever, the filmmakers cast teenaged Wesley Singerman, who has previously voiced the iconic Charlie Brown for several television productions. Singerman could not resist having the chance to meet the Robinsons once he read the screenplay. “Their story is non-stop hilarious. It’s got action, it’s got love, it’s got comedy. It’s awesome,” he sums up.
Wilbur is so jazzed by life, he tends to talk at least a mile a minute, which was a lot of fun for Singerman. “I think Wilbur is one of those guys who just wants to get a lot of things done right here and now,” he observes. “I used my natural voice but speeded it way up.”
When it came to Wilbur’s family, Singerman was in constant awe. “They are just extremely quirky yet each fantastic in their own way,” he laughs. “I loved seeing their life in the future and they are so funny – but I think they also show how if you have a lot of trust and belief in yourself and other people, you can achieve anything.”
Finally, also joining the cast was director Steve Anderson himself, who took on the pivotal role of the pathetic bad guy, the appropriately named Bowler Hat Guy, who nearly disrupts the entire future. Anderson decided to tackle the role on screen when the voice he developed during the storyboarding process took on a life of its own. “I’m not sure where that voice comes from,” Anderson admits. “I think some of it comes from the anger and frustration I feel during morning commutes in traffic! I’ve always found anger and frustration funny, as I think the root of a lot of comedy is angst. Originally, I gave Bowler Hat Guy a British accent, but as the character evolved, I started pulling back on that, although that same kind of bravado remained.”
Anderson also came to the part with a lot of sympathy for the man who is more nincompoop than scoundrel. “I’ve always loved the mix of villainy and comedy and this guy’s got it in spades,” he says. “But while the world sees the black cape and the twirled mustache and the evil poses, that’s not really who he is. Inside, I think he’s really just an excitable kid,” says Anderson. “I think of him as almost like a bad theatre actor who is over-acting with all these big gestures and yet nobody is really buying it, because you know it’s not coming from inside. He really can’t quite pull off that evil persona, which is left in the hands of the film’s real bad guy: Doris!”
To Anderson, Bowler Hat Guy even shares some similarities with Lewis. “Usually the hero and villain of a movie have opposite lessons to learn, but both Lewis and Bowler Hat Guy come to see that they have to let go of the things that didn’t go right in the past, the things they wish could have been different, and move on – to keep moving forward,” he observes. “I think that’s really unique.”
Switching gears back to director, Anderson enjoyed evoking that same kind of bigger-than-life quality he sought in Bowler Hat Guy from the entire voice cast. “There was no fear in our cast,” he summarizes. “And that is so necessary for animation, because it’s not about subtlety, it’s about big, grand gestures. I was thrilled that our voice talent were all so creative and with all their ad-libs and energy they added so much to the world of Lewis and the Robinsons.”
The Robinsons Music
Among the many surprises and delights of Meet the Robinsons is the film’s original music – including a pop-driven soundtrack, songs by acclaimed singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright and mega-hit pop star Rob Thomas and an inventive symphonic score from two-time Academy Award nominee Danny Elfman. The soundtrack album, which features 8 songs and 8 score selections and almost as much joyful diversity as the Robinson family itself, features the lead single “Little Wonders” from Rob Thomas as well as songs from the new runaway hit rock/pop ensemble The All-American Rejects, the dynamic British singer-songwriter and pianist Jamie Cullum, plus bonus tracks from the teenaged, hyper-energized trio, Jonas Brothers, and the ever-innovative pop group They Might Be Giants.
“I am so excited by the music in the movie,” says director Steve Anderson, “because it adds even more energy and emotion.”
Rufus Wainwright, the Canadian-American who has been lauded as one of the most extraordinary songwriters of his generation, jumped at his chance to become part of the Walt Disney legacy by contributing key songs. “So many great many people have written for Disney movies, from Randy Newman to Elton John and Phil Collins,” he notes, “it’s become something very coveted and respected. I was honored to be thought about in that way.”
Wainwright would ultimately write three songs for the film including Wilbur’s theme “Another Believer” (written with Marius de Vries), the Big Band tune “Where Is Your Heart At?” which is sung by Grammy-nominated jazz and pop star Jamie Cullum and the romantic “Motion Waltz (Emotional Commotion).” Wainwright’s inspiration came throughout from trying to put himself in the audience’s position. “I wanted songs that would be immediately sustaining and really keep their attention,” he says.
Jamie Cullum was thrilled to perform Wainwright’s song “Where Is Your Heart At?” which hearkens back to the Swing influence of Franny Robinson’s frog band. “I love this kind of music that has real roots but also has the flavor of modern pop music,” says Cullum.
Also contributing the song “Little Wonders” to Meet the Robinsons is Rob Thomas, the Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter and lead singer for Matchbox Twenty. Thomas only needed to see a few clips of the early animation for the film to know he wanted to be a part of the project. “I never thought I would get the chance to do something like this,” he says. “After seeing a few bits and pieces of the film I was really excited.”
It was all he needed for inspiration. “The story itself inspired me, with this orphan trying to figure out who he is through this magical fantasy,” Thomas explains. “There was a melody in my head and it all kind of started to flow together. The song is about how people sometimes can get stuck in a bad moment when something is bringing you down and lose sight of the idea that something else will come along to make them happy. Y’know life has its ups and downs but it’s all about making the most of those great little moments.”
For Steve Anderson, the songs added even more hues and shadings to Lewis’ story. “We have the really fun stuff with the Frog Band but I also wanted a couple of songs to really take you into Lewis’ inner world and struggles,” says the director. “Rufus Wainwright writes about the search for family and then Rob Thomas writes about Lewis finding a family in a completely different way than he ever could have dreamed. The songs become a great part of the journey.”
Meanwhile Danny Elfman was crafting a score that matches the Robinson’s mix of high-speed hilarity and heart. Elfman, who has created dozens upon dozens of truly distinctive feature film scores – ranging from “Batman” and “Spiderman” to “Good Will Hunting” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Men in Black” and, on the animation side, from “Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Charlotte’s Web”-found that Meet the Robinsons still managed to offer something completely different. He saw the chance to flash back to the kind of kaleidoscopic score one heard back in the days of Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, filled with surprising and entertaining shifts in tempo, tone and style, matching the jazzy energy of the Robinsons, while at the same time providing a lush, romantic background to Lewis’ transformational journey.
Elfman comments: “I’ve always somewhat avoided animation because the music can get kind of silly and spoofy but Meet the Robinsons not only struck me as very creative and crazy in the best sense, but also as very emotional. It meant that, I could, on the one hand do some stuff like Carl Stalling, who composed for the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, while on the other also write big melodic themes that relate to story and character.”
Elfman eventually developed distinct themes for each of the film’s major characters – a sweeter, yearning theme for the starry-eyed orphan Lewis, a chaotic Latin-inspired theme for the magnificently manic Robinsons and a more mischievous theme for Doris, the evil bowler hat. He was especially inspired by the spirit of the Robinsons. “This family’s so over the top and what really sparked me is that their movements are so quick and sudden. They zip around in that classic Golden Age of animation style, so I’d pick a character’s movement and just follow them with the music, go right with what they were doing,” he explains. “There’s also a funny retro attitude to a lot of the music because Steve and the gang gave a distinct retro-futuristic feel to the visuals when we’re in the Robinson’s world.”
Elfman’s score was eventually performed and recorded by a 90-piece orchestra, including not only strings but a sizable horn section and even a full choir. “The choral music adds more color, another element. They can do things no other instrument can do,” notes Elfman.
In addition to scoring the film, Elfman collaborated with alt-rockers Nick Wheeler and Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects to craft the buoyant track “The Future Has Arrived.” Performed by The All-American Rejects, the song blends the “funny retro attitude” of Elfman’s score with AAR’s finely crafted rock/pop sound.
Creating the score and “The Future Has Arrived” turned out to be a total pleasure. “I’ve done nearly 60 films, but I can only think of maybe 6 that went this smoothly,” he confesses. “Working with Steve Anderson and the whole creative team on Meet the Robinsons was just easy and wonderful. It was really the exception to the rule and it was nice to be reminded that movie-making can still be such a joy.”
Anderson was equally excited by Elfman’s contributions. He comments: “I remember the first time Danny played me a demo. It was for the Future City fly-through scene and I was just glued to every note and my eyes misted up because I thought `this is so perfect. This is everything I’ve dreamed about.’ Danny just has that ability to know exactly the right thing to do musically to make any moment richer. The comedy is funnier, the tears fall faster, the scary moments are scarier and everything is deeper because of Danny’s music.”
Animating the Robinsons: The Characters Come to Life in the Computer
In 2005, Walt Disney Feature Animation added its first fully computer-animated feature film to its long list of technological achievements with the release of “Chicken Little.” For the first time, that film put computer tools in the hands of some of the industry’s top artistic talents. They, in turn, adapted such classic Disney animation principles as “squash and stretch” – a technique that lends a rounded quality and vibrant, fluid motion to characters – to the CG world with endearingly zany results.
But the characters of Meet the Robinsons would stretch Disney’s animators even further and in entirely new directions by presenting them with a species they’d never animated in a computer before: human beings. The filmmakers knew it wouldn’t be a simple transition. After all, digitally animating humans in life-like ways has proven fraught with complications in its very brief history. For all the amazing progress computers have made over the last few years, they still haven’t quite matched up to the incredible variability of human characteristics. That means compromises have to be made – but for Steve Anderson, the key was making sure, no matter the technical difficulties, that the Robinsons would come off as far more than “cartoon cutouts” and become people the audience actually care about.
Animation supervisor Michael Belzer also began his career in the traditional animation world on such films as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach,” but then did a stint at Pixar where he dove headfirst into the cutting-edge of digital technology. For Belzer, Meet the Robinsons was a chance to combine the classical artistry of Disney with the thrilling new future of digital animation that can go where even animation never went before.
“I think is a really fun time to be an animator,” says Belzer, “because we’re applying all the history of the past to these new forms, and we had a great opportunity to do that in Meet the Robinsons. We all loved the story so much, it really inspired us.”
Belzer oversaw a team of some 66 animators and assistant animators for a period of close to three years. From the beginning, he was keenly aware of the outsized proportions of the mission. “The biggest challenge was going to be animating human beings,” he explains. “Because we already live in a 3D world, and our brains are very in tune with that, an audience will notice even the littlest things that are off when it comes to human characters, whether it is their articulation or the way their hair moves or the way their clothing wrinkles. We used the same technology as on `Chicken Little’ but to create a very different type of animated world. And of course with every new digital film, the artists are always looking to improve the techniques.”
For Belzer, that meant delving into the tiniest of textural details. “For example, we spent a lot of time adding wrinkles and a more tactile feeling to all of the clothing in the film, which makes the world feel that more palpably real,” he says. “One really tough area was Bowler Hat Guy’s cape, which created a visual challenge because you have to pay very close mind to any silhouette. For the first time, we actually gave the animators some digital tools to do initial cloth simulations themselves so they could work out a lot of the kinks before we sent it on to the cloth department.”
Belzer notes that an area where, even in the digital era, Disney still does things in a distinctive way is in assigning all the main characters his or her own supervising animator. “It’s really an exciting way of working and was key to Meet the Robinsons because there are so many unique characters that you can put a lot of personality into,” he comments. “This way we have animators who really understand who the characters are and their most subtle nuances, and who will get really passionate about every aspect of how they move and exist. You get that extra emotional quality in the animation because the animators are living and breathing these guys. The audience finds the characters so entertaining because we take them so seriously.”
In addition to serving as overall animation supervisor, Belzer also was the supervising animator for the character of Carl the Robot, who employs (Please remove one of the film’s most complex arrays of controls, over 600 controls for his vast catalogue of movements. “Oh, I loved working with Carl,” Belzer admits. “He’s a great character for an animator because he allows you to think in a very unlimited fashion. The thing that’s so fun about him was that if I needed him to suddenly have another arm to hold something, we could just make another arm pop out of his chest! There was just a smorgasbord of ideas to play with at every turn.”
Steve Anderson thinks one of the most challenging characters for his team to pull off was Bowler Hat Guy. “He’s so extreme and the whole design of him is so pushed that there was a lot of debate over just how far to go with him,” Anderson explains. “This was also true of Wilbur, who zips around in that Looney Tunes way with lots of smears and blurs – but we wanted to make sure it was something the audience would feel instead of see.”
Even as he worked on the minutiae of character textures and motions, Mike Belzer remained devoted to one over-riding goal – evoking not just movements but real personalities and emotions from the way the characters look and feel. “What sets this film apart, I think, is the interaction between the characters,” he says. “It’s not just the usual situational comedy. There’s such heart to it and there are so many emotional connections to each character. Even Bowler Hat Guy, might look like a classic villain but he has his own unique story. I just hope audiences will be as moved as we were by all these characters.”
After fully committing himself 100% to all the foibles and futuristic dreams of the characters in Meet the Robinsons, Steve Anderson echoes that sentiment. “I never wavered from that one idea that these characters have a story to tell,” he says. “There were a lot of obstacles, technicalities and struggles along the way, but, whatever was happening, we all just kept muttering that one fantastic phrase to ourselves – keep moving forward – and it kept us going all the way.”
Meet the Robinsons in Disney Digital 3D
Meet the Robinsons and its outrageously imaginative world will come to dazzling life in groundbreaking Disney Digital 3D™ on an unprecedented number of screens — more than 600 nationwide — marking Disney’s most creative and ambitious venture into 3D moviemaking yet.
Disney pioneered the high-tech rebirth of 3D with the Disney Digital 3D™ release of the animated hit “Chicken Little”. A special Halloween engagement of “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” in Disney Digital 3D™ was also a huge success. But those releases, while doing banner box-office business in select cities, provided just a peek into the potential of Disney Digital 3D™. So now, Disney takes a major leap, both in terms of more sophisticated 3D storytelling and the opportunity for a far wider audience to enjoy the state-of-the-art 3D experience with Meet the Robinsons – a movie tailor-made for this kind of forward-looking fun.
Says Lylle Breier, Senior Vice President of Disney Special Events: “Meet the Robinsons is all about the future, so it’s a natural for this completely new way of experiencing a movie that takes you inside this animated world and really lets you live it. This is the future as only Disney could imagine it – and today’s sophisticated audiences want to experience that future in a cutting-edge way that makes it totally immersive.”
Breier continues: “What’s exciting for everyone at Disney is that we were there in the beginning with ‘Chicken Little’ and now, just a short time later, we’re seeing astronomical growth in digital 3D theatres. Audiences all over the country are demanding digital 3D and thankfully theatres are stepping up to the plate.”
“We are very excited that the filmmakers have taken giant leaps forward in the production of the film. Disney Digital 3D™is now more comfortable, easier to watch and bigger and bolder than ever. Throw away your old ideas of paper glasses, eye-strain, and headaches – with Disney Digital 3D™ it’s totally comfortable to watch and you don’t really notice the 3D process. What you do notice is you are immersed in this incredible world with wonderful characters,” added Breier.
Movie-goers have always loved the idea of 3D, but the reality of it has never quite been able to match up to the dream, until now. In the brave new world of digital cinema, 3D has finally come of age. In general, 3D films work by projecting a double image: one for the right eye and another for the left, which creates the rich sensation of real-life depth. Traditionally, this was achieved by using two projectors. Disney Digital 3D™, however, takes advantage of advances in digital projection technology by needing just one projector, which rapidly shifts between images for the left eye and the right eye, so quickly (144 times per second) that the brain is not even aware of it. Using polarized light, the images are crisper, clearer and more immersive than any 3D process in history.
With Meet the Robinsons in Disney Digital 3D™, the technical has also started to impact the creative. For the first time, the filmmakers took the 3D rendering process into account early on in the creative development of the movie.”We actually wrote what we call a ‘Depth Script’ for the entire film, in which we determined how much depth we would use in each sequence of the story,” explains the film’s Stereoscopic Supervisor Phil McNally, whose love and skill in the three-dimensional world have lent him the nickname “Captain 3D.” “It was a real jump ahead creatively, because we were able to look at the entire story in advance and actually use the 3D to enhance the storytelling as we have never done before.”
For example, McNally and his team purposely held back on the dimensional depth of the film until Lewis arrives in the Future City, when things suddenly and viscerally pop with dynamic shapes and colors. “Throughout Meet the Robinsons, we are using much more depth than you saw on ‘Chicken Little,’ and by the time Lewis gets to the Future City, it’s the deepest you’ve ever seen,” notes McNally.
Yet for all the creative shifts in depth, the aim was also a refined subtlety not usually associated with 3D. “The idea is that audience shouldn’t notice the changes in depth, but simply have the feeling of that you’re suddenly looking into a more spacious future world,” McNally comments.
McNally notes several other areas where the film pushes forward into an exciting future for 3D filmmaking. “We did a lot of work with the sense of scale,” he says, “developing different tools to actually measure the characters and to see how round or how big they need to be, which helps to make them very convincing. We also have improved the shot-to-shot transitions, so that we can keep up with the Robinsons even in the fastest-cutting sequences.”
He continues: “We also have taken control of the movie frame itself, known as the ‘stereoscopic window’ in 3D filmmaking. For example, in most scenes we keep the world behind the frame in order to make it feel under control, but then, say in the dinosaur scenes, we break out of that window, playing with angles and allowing the shots to literally become unstable. It’s a very subconscious kind of thing but it’s really effective in creating a dynamic sequence.”
All of these technological leaps will add up to a bigger, brighter and more seamless experience for the audience — but both Breier and McNally note that, in keeping with the theme of Meet the Robinsons, there are more exciting changes ahead.
“There’s no doubt that for big movies like Meet the Robinsons, digital 3D is going to be a major factor in the future,” says Breier. “In fact, Meet the Robinsons will only be seen in 3D in all of Manhattan.”
Adds McNally: “The future will allow filmmakers to create movies that are incredibly immersive and thanks to 3D. The key thing is that with the technology we are using now at Disney, most of the limitations are gone and anything is possible.”
Fun Facts and Figures About Meet the Robinsons
Not only did Steve Anderson direct Meet the Robinsons, he’s also the voice talent behind the villainous Bowler Hat Guy and several other characters.
The electronics store where Lewis acquires parts for his Memory Scanner is named after the director’s son, Jake.
The Memory Scanner incorporates recognizable parts of a vacuum cleaner, a basketball hoop, a drill press, a lunch box, a colander, a portable CD player and a soda bottle.
One of Lewis’ most useful inventions is the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Maker. Did you know that the average child will eat 1, 500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he or she graduates high school?
If you tried to use just one computer to render the entirety of Meet the Robinsons, it would take over 7,000,000 hours – that’s 800 years!
If you wanted to store all the production data on a typical 60gb iPod, you’d need 2,400 of them.
There are only six basic “background kids” in the movie – but using different dresses and hair styles, those 4 boys and 2 girls, create over 50 different characters, including two basketball teams.
Franny’s Frog Band consists of 27 amphibians including: Frankie, the Piano Player, the Drummer, the Bass, 5 Clarinets, 4 Trumpets, 4 Trombones, 6 Saxophones and 4 Tubas.
There are animators on MEET THE ROBINSONS who have worked on films as far back as “Robin Hood” (1973) and “The Rescuers” (1977).
Carl the Robot has 613 controls that the animators can manipulate to make him come to life.
Meet the Robinsons (2007)
Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson
Starring: Angela Bassett, Daniel Hansen, Jordan Fry, Matthew Josten, Dara McGarry, Laurie Metcalf, Jessie Flower, Adam West, Tom Kenny, Ethan Sandler, Kelly Ripa, Tom Selleck, Harland Williams
Screenplay by Michelle Bochner
Film Editing by: Ellen Keneshea
Art Direction by: Robh Ruppel
Music by: Danny Elfman
MPAA Rating: G for general audience.
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Release Date: March 30, 2007