At times, all of us feel like strangers in the world. In Disney’s bight, colorful, CGI animated film (available in 3D in some locations), Lewis (voice of Daniel Hansen) is left on the steps of an orphanage as a baby and rejected by over 100 prospective parents. He constantly invents machines that will help solve problems. But his love for inventing just seems to make him feel more separate from the world, more isolated, more weird. It seems he will ever find a family or a place where he feels at home.
Mildred (voice of Angela Bassett), who runs the orphanage, is sympathetic and fond of Lewis, but that is not the same. He has a roommate, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian (voice of Matthew Josten), who is just as lonely as he is. Lewis is better at understanding the problems of machines than he is at understanding what makes people work — or not work. His head is so full of plans that he does not always see what is going on in front of him.
When he takes his latest invention to the school science fair, he does not notice that two very unusual people have taken an interest in it. One is “Bowler Hat guy,” an even apter name than first apparent. The other is a boy named Wilbur Robinson who says he is from the future and he needs Lewis to accompany him there right away.
In keeping with its theme, the movie is visually inventive, especially in 3D. The story is uneven and a little too long, its wacky characters not as adorable as it wants us to think they are, and the ending not quite as logically consistent as it should be. But any movie that has a chorus of frogs singing Big Band music and a healthy respect for failure is worth seeing.
Parents should know that the movie’s themes include parental abandonment and rejection by potential adoptive parents, which may be disturbing for some children. There is some cartoon violence and peril, including a scary dinosaur. No one is badly hurt, though a child has a black eye and refers to having been beat up. There is some schoolyard language and a reference to being over-caffeinated.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it means to keep moving forward and to let go of the hurts of the past. Why did Lewis change his mind about what he thought he wanted? They may also want to talk about the many different ways people create families — and about some of the more unusual hobbies of their family members.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, by William Joyce. They will also enjoy the dazzlingly inventive graphics in another animated film about an inventor based on Joyce’s work, Robots. The bowler hat guy is a little reminiscient of villain played by Terry-Thomas in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or Jack Lemmon in the delightful Great Race.