Meet the Robinsons

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4 Stars
This movie managed to surprise me: it is the first computer-generated 3-D animation that I have seen in which at least some of the human characters did not seem either grotesque or scary.

This is no small matter. You have probably noticed that 3-D animation is the only kind that American movie studios are willing to produce these days. (Computers are cheaper than human artists, or something like that.) You may also have noticed that these films are almost always about animals, monsters, robots, cars, or anything but people.

There is a good reason for this: it is really hard to do acceptable human characters this way. Any competent cartoonist can draw a 2-dimensional human face and make it look appealing, even when including all sorts of distortions (e.g. enormous eyes and no nose at all). The human brain is just very forgiving is interpreting 2-D images of people. On the other hand with a 3-dimensional image of a face, any significant distortions will make it look ugly and disturbing. And if you try to make the computer generate and animate a realistic human image it will seem creepy, like a walking corpse.

Sometimes this is OK. Grotesque characters work well if you are creating a farce like The Incredibles. Zombie-like characters are great if you want to do a creepy horror film like The Corpse Bride or The Polar Express. Nevertheless this puts severe limitations on the medium.

Meet the Robinsons is different though. The two main characters actually look rather appealing. I think the main difference is that the computer-generated facial expressions are much more sophisticated than in the past. I’m not saying that this is as appealing as a good 2-D animation (it isn’t), but it suggests that with sufficiently powerful computers it may be possible to do more with this medium than I had previously thought.

Fortunately there is more to this movie than just improved rendering technology. It is also very entertaining. It is the story of orphan with a knack for inventing things, who is visited by another boy who claims to be from the future. It is basically a farce (perhaps the writers did not have enough faith in the animators), and it is fairly predictable, but it is very funny and charming.

The movie is being shown in theaters along with Boat Builders, a classic 1938 Mickey Mouse short. Though this only rubs in the point that 2-D animation is still superior to 3-D, it provides a nice bonus.

1 thought on “Meet the Robinsons

  1. Steven Den Beste

    It’s sometimes referred to as the “uncanny valley“. It refers to the fact that characters which are rather far from being realistic can be charming and cute, but as they get close (but still not quite there) they become disturbing and freaky.

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