What does a group of singing frogs, a dog wearing glasses, bubble transportation systems, an automatic PB&J dispenser and a mind controlled dinosaur have in common? Not a whole lot – but you’ll find all of them in Meet the Robinsons, a simple and unpretentious 3D computer animated comedy from Walt Disney that should simultaneously provide great fun for the young ones while not horribly taxing the patience of any adults in the audience.
Young Lewis is an orphan with a penchant for inventing contraptions – ones that usually don’t work. After scaring off his 124th family interview, he decides that perhaps the only person who could ever have really wanted him was his unidentified mother. But who was she? So, for his science fair experiment, he sets out to invent a memory reading device to help him remember her face. But while at the fair he discovers that he’s not the only one with an interest in the machine – or him. A strange boy who claims to be from the future wants him to keep an eye out for a sinister man wearing a bowler hat. But when his invention fails and the boy insists he fix it, Lewis refuses and winds up in the future where things are vastly different than they are today – and the people seem more than slightly strange!
Shown in actual 3D in some theaters and created in the soft, rounded and delightfully textured animation style of Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons doesn’t rise to the grandiosely detailed and rich computer work done by sister studio Pixar, but it’s still a pleasant film to look at. Plus, as is the case with must computer animation, it really benefits from a high definition transfer.
Presented in 1080p with AVC MPEG-4 encoding, there’s little not to like about the video transfer for Meet the Robinsons. Converted directly from computer to disc with no film intermediary, there are no optical imperfections to be seen such as film grain, dust or sparkles. In fact this would appear to be a nearly perfect representation of the director’s intentions, from the slightly soft and muted look of “today” to the bright, garish and clean look of “the future”. The color palette ranges at times from a hazy, almost washed out look, to sepia-tinged flashbacks, and all the way to bold, vivid primaries with inky blacks, making Meet the Robinsons a great test of your display’s ability to produce smooth tones and color graduations.
Thankfully I saw no posterization or banding in the source material. Edges of people and objects are crisp and well defined, with impressive clarity stretching back into the horizon. Close-ups of heavily textured items such as cloth, skin (or scales!) and grass proved remarkably detailed and without any moiré or aliasing.
Meet the Robinsons has a rather variable bitrate AVC encode, dipping down as low as 12 Mbps and occasionally extending all the way above 40 Mbps. On average the transfer hovered around 22 to 28 Mbps, with regular peaks into the 30s.
Disney does BD audio the way I like – with full uncompressed PCM. If you’ve ever switched between an uncompressed track and the standard Dolby Digital version, the difference is shocking – the uncompressed track has a clarity and presence to it that makes a movie all that much more immersive. With a lively and active 5.1 mix, Meet the Robinsons is one of those rare family movies that will showcase each part of your audio system from subwoofer, to center channel, to rear channels.
As with most studio-recorded soundtracks Meet the Robinsons has a nearly perfect dialogue track. Danny Elfman’s lively orchestral score is punctuated with several traditional songs, but it’s all kept nicely in check with the dialogue and sound effect levels. The only flaw appeared to be with the vocals for one character, which seemed to have a somewhat muffled quality to them. With a whimsical sci-fi theme to draw upon, the sound producers took the opportunity to punch up the soundtrack more than might be expected for a film such as this, making excellent (although not extensive) use of directional sounds in the rear channels. Several scenes have effects that pan across the rear soundstage, and even move circularly around the room quite convincingly. And as for subsonics, while not a movie that will have your furniture rearranging itself spontanously, there are still several locations with surprisingly deep bass punctuations.
For those who would like to hear what a movie would be like without dialogue and music, an isolated sound effects track in Dolby Digital 5.1 is available – something Disney has done occasionally on their DVD releases but is rarely seen from other studios.
Disney has done a rather nice job of putting together a nice selection of bonus features for the Meet the Robinsons Blu-ray release, and most of them have been produced in high definition.
- Director’s commentary: featuring director Stephen Anderson, this commentary track delves into behind-the-scenes details about the making of the film. It tends to be somewhat less lively than the average multi-participant commentary, and sometimes has long periods with nothing being said, but is quite informative.
- Inventing the Robinsons (1080p/2.0): An eighteen minute documentary featuring interviews with the designers and actors. It begins discussing the characters in the film and the inspiration behind them, and then shifts into the film’s music.
- Deleted scenes (1080p/2.0): A total of six deleted scenes are provided, all with introductory explanations by the film’s director – in total there’s over 21 minutes here. Most of the scenes aren’t entirely finished, and switch from storyboards to early black and white proofs to finished renderings – all during the same scene.
- Keep Moving Forward (480p/2.0): Subtitled “Inventions that shaped the world”, this is a short six minute look for kids at major inventions in the past (such as the wheel, glass and the printing press), using lots of stock Disney cartoon footage.
- Bowler Hat Barrage Game: The first of two simple Java games, in this one or two players (not at the same time) control a ship up and down and fire pizza dough at invading targets on-screen. It proved harder than it looked!
- Family Function 5000 Family Tree Game: In this second game you try to match up Robinson family members based on various facts about them.
- Music videos (480p/5.1): There are two music videos included on the disc; the first is “Kids of the Future” performed by Jonas Brothers, and the second is “Little Wonders” performed by Rob Thomas.
- Movie Showcase: this option takes you to a loop of three filmclips that are, according to the blurb, “the fimmaker’s most cinematic moments that showcase the ultimate in high definition picture and sound”.
- Trailers: Oddly no theatrical trailer for Meet the Robinsons is provided anywhere on the BD, however preview trailers are included for Enchanted, Wall-E and Ratatouille.
Disney’s Blu-ray Disc releases have so far been some of the best quality productions. With AVC encoded video and lossless audio you get the best possible presentation of the movie, and then they top it off with a decent selection of bonus features, most in high definition. Although Meet the Robinsons it a bit erratic in pacing and can be a little bit goofy at times, it contains a good message and is sure to keep the kids entertained throughout. Adults, on the other hand, will be able to appreciate the artwork, the great audio... and you just may find yourself laughing along!
- Daniel Tonks (Remote Central, 03/11/09)