Fresh Meet: Disney?s digital spectacle understands alternafamlies.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.

I was pretty sure that I would enjoy Meet the Robinsons when I heard the villain offhandedly referred to as “Bowler Hat Guy.” When I learned the same guy was the stooge of his own hat, I was close to sold. And upon hearing that hat addressed, in faintly famished erotic cadences, as Doris…well, I’m afraid my resistance vanished on the spot. Whether yours lasts longer depends on how you feel about intelligent headwear, plucky orphans, and/or unbalanced families. The orphan in question is Lewis, a spiky-haired little Einstein (voiced by Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) who dreams of going back in time to find the mother who abandoned him. The family is the Robinsons, a screw-loose clan whose scion, Wilbur (voiced by Wesley Singerman), has traveled back from the future on a vital errand. He wants to make sure Lewis’ handy-dandy memory scanner wins the science fair—’cause if it doesn’t, something really bad will happen. Like Lewis’ inventions, Meet the Robinsons takes its sweet time getting off the drawing board. We’re in the orphanage for too long, following our boy through rounds of rejection, and we’re left with his misbegotten gizmos for even longer. (Bet you can’t guess what happens to the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich maker.) The film kicks into life about when Wilbur’s time machine does, and it blossoms with the arrival of the Robinsons, who, despite their futuristic provenance, are decidedly old-fashioned eccentrics: practical-joking grandpa, flibbertigibbet grandma, uncles hiding in hedges, and a mom who teaches frogs to sing. The official source for all this is William Joyce’s children’s book A Day With Wilbur Robinson, but the film’s spiritual godfather is 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You, blessedly shorn of the moral schematics that require wackos to be superior to squares. Square? Hell, you won’t find a planar figure in the whole movie. Director Stephen Anderson uses 3-D imagery to propel his story, and in every frame, he seems to be living out Papa Robinson’s own motto: “Keep moving forward.” If it’s a bit jarring to find that motto originated with a conservative stuffed shirt like Walt Disney, a three-dimensional perspective will remind us that Disney was less concerned with politics than with the velocity of narrative. In this respect, Meet the Robinsons is every bit his godchild, even as it celebrates alternative families in a manner that’s both touching and 21st-century.