Meet The Robinson's: A Character Study
As a kid I wanted to be a professional skateboarder. I loved the idea of being that guy the camera was watching. That just like all my friends watching Chris Cole, or Sean Malto (Hometown Hero) I wanted to have a crowed of people huddled around the TV or sitting at a skate competition observing and cheering as they watched athletic prowess at its finest. Though unrealistic, I saw it happening. I looked into the future and I saw that vision take place. Believe me when I say it was heart breaking when I lost that vision. I stopped and looked around, realizing that in that day I had no real job skills, only one friend, no education, and I felt I had no real future, but that was far from true. Enter - Meet The Robinson's...
Lewis Robinson almost gives up on his future because he is stuck. His mother abandons him as a baby, and 124 adoption interviews causes him to believe he doesn't have a future. But what he lacks in confidence he makes up for with his gift. He is brilliant, and he has a knack for inventing. Like any creative mind, when Lewis is motivated, he doesn't stop until the project is done. This keeps his roommate Goob on an inconsistent sleep schedule that in turn causes him to miss the winning catch at his little league baseball game. This article is a comparison of their paths.
A good friend asked me:
“If you could ask one question about the future what would it be?”
Lewis, like all good characters has a flaw, for history has shown him he is reject-able, and now faces a crippling amount of insecurity and a low self worth. When he decides he wants to see his mother from the one memory he has of her, he launches full force into the creation of his greatest work thus far, the memory scanner. This device takes a person back through the stored memories of the past and projects them onto a clear black and white TV monitor. Even with severe trauma his passion for inventing cannot be thwarted. His school hosts a science fair so that becomes his optimal for showing the world his creation. All the children in his grade have set up cardboard displays demonstrating simple ideas, including an ant farm and a fake volcano. But Lewis shows up with his invention draped and he rolls it in on a red wagon; This kid has something special.
Lewis' invention comes at a cost he wasn't aware of. Goob, Lewis' roommate, has little to no sleep for several days while Lewis works on his project. This throws off Goob's sleep cycle and causes an event that would shape the behavior of his young mind, and change the course of his future decisions. For missing the winning catch in his little league base ball game, the teammates he trusts beat him, and call him names. Worse yet, an adult, the coach of his team, the one person Goob could look to for leadership and fatherly affection... especially as an orphan... says to “let it go.” That's a crushing blow to a 12 year old.
To The Future:
To make matters worse, Lewis's greatest invention is sabotaged by a guy in a bowler hat. He also met a boy named Wilbur who claims to be a time cop from the future trying to catch this criminal for stealing his time machine. The science fair is a disaster, setting off the sprinklers, flooding the gym with panic, and setting his gym teacher on a rampage; Lewis storms out running to his sanctuary, the roof of his orphanage. Reflecting on his mistakes, he opens his idea journal and starts ripping out all the things he'd ever worked on in the past. But like all good movies, something happens to change the course of our heroes' path. The “time cop” shows up and tries to convince Lewis he needs to fix the memory scanner. But how can you convince a wounded soul he has something special?
The life Lewis has lived is lacking basic human needs, he has started to doubt himself and hold on to his failures. He is insecure, and doesn't function in the same way as a child that hasn't experienced similar conflicts. I've noticed that adults with insecurity issues tend to have bad posture, their facial expressions are droopy, and their philosophical perspective is pretty negative. Add a bit of childhood trauma and you have a truly distraught individual. They might never admit to having flaws.
Despite all the negativity Wilbur still needs to get his time machine back. He wants to prove to Lewis where he is from, so he takes him to the future.
The Fathers Motto:
Though he thought this would solve the problem and set Lewis back on course they fight for control of their time machine which hurls them into the ground. Lewis has to see his mother. It doesn't matter how it happened as long as it does. Who needs inventions you can't make work, when you have a perfectly good invention right in front of you? The next thing he knows, Wilbur has hidden him in his garage to fix the broken time machine. If Wilbur's family finds out Lewis came from the past, he will be in real trouble, but that doesn't stop Lewis. He meets literally everyone (except dad) and is invited to dinner.
Let's pause the plot for a minute. This part of the story may seem simple, but is actually profound.
“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward towards success.” - C.S. Lewis
I've always hated failure but have also learned failure is not something to fear. We've all watched athletes train hard to succeed and end up loosing in their given sport. The results can be maddening. As a skateboarder my temper flared when I failed. I think I broke as many boards on purpose as I did on accident. I missed more tricks than I landed on any given day, and I was always upset when I was too nervous to try something new or harder. The vision I clearly saw was always inevitably fading and deep down I knew that. It wasn't until after I quit that I realized what failure was supposed to do for me, and that I should have never feared it. Lewis is about to learn this himself.
The family has a gadget similar to Lewis's PB&J machine from the beginning of the film, and they ask him to fix theirs knowing he's an inventor (though he doesn't think so). He tries, and fails. Peanut butter goes everywhere bringing back recounts of how he shot the same substance at a guy with a peanut allergy. Due to his warped perspective of failing, shame is his go to emotion. But what the family does next is important. They don't console him and say “Oh no, that's okay we'll fix it later...” while they awkwardly feel sorry for him. No... they celebrate him.
* Family Cheers *
Aunt Billie - “From failing you learn... From success, not so much.”
The Robinson's have become a living legacy that Lewis gets to take part in. Their Motto is “Keep Moving Forward,” as stated in an angelic chorus and fireworks... all in the dining room. When you fail you don't give up. Through life's disappointments, like being abandoned by your mother to become an orphan, or not being adopted for 12 years after that, or by having a gift and not seeing it bloom into success, in any case just keep moving forward. New doors will open. Failure is a key factor in how you get there. But, if you don't have the right perspective failure will lead to resentment.
Goob & Doris:
When Goob's team loses the game, they called him names, beat him up, then his coach makes it worse by telling him to let it go. Goob grow up listening to the radio which always seemed to talk about how successful Lewis is becoming. After enough wasted years Goob decides it's time to destroy Lewis's career; because as we find out later, the father of modern technology, and head of the Robinson household is none other than Lewis himself. The next series of events show us just how dangerous dwelling on bitterness and resentment can be.
Goob has been shaped by the mistake he made that day when he was 12. So much so in fact that he's never adopted and even though the kids at school want to be his friends he puts up walls to keep others out while resentment swells inside him. When he decides to deface Robinson Industries he meets an individual just as resentful as he is. Doris, the “helping hat.” A.K.A. The robotic bowler hat. She tells him her origin story and they team up to take Lewis down. In order to do that, they steal one of the Robinson's time machines.
After they sabotage the science fair they take the memory scanner and try to pass it off as their own invention to an inventor company but fail to do so. Inventing is unique to Lewis. So they go on a quest to hunt down 12 year old Lewis and get him to say how it works. Soon after they succeed, Goob passes off the invention and takes the place of Lewis as a great inventor and Doris' secret plan takes effect. She has been able to subdue human beings to mind control by being slipped over the head of an individual. In the present day (12 year old Lewis's time) she has now been mass produced as the second great invention of Mike “Goob” Yagoobian. But Goob being the impressionable person he is, has no idea she was manipulating him. The result of his resentment? Global domination.
A brief summary on resentment:
Here is what Goob says to his younger self before he shapes the alternate future.
Goob - “Everyone will tell you to move on and let it go but don't! Instead, let it fester and boil inside of you. Take these feelings and lock them away! Let them fuel your actions, let hate be your ally and you will be capable of wonderfully horrid things. Heed my words Goob... Don't let it go.”
This behavior is what psychologists call “sifting.” It is a process in which a person suppresses their resentment and anger towards something or someone. As time moves on their emotions boil over and they have the choice to let go and forgive said person or situation, or they can suppress the resentment and let it cook some more. But it will only come back stronger.
In this case Goob blames Lewis for his fatigue during the little league game and now suppresses the bitterness he feels. Over the next 20 or so years Goob never stops dealing with his past experiences. Because of this negativity he has almost unrecognizable physical and mental features from his youth. His hair is fading, Wilbur is quoted later saying he smells bad, he looks wretched, and he cannot keep a single coherent thought outside of his choice to destroy Lewis. Even then Doris does most of the work to sabotage him.
This is what dwelling on failure does to a person. Goob's dream was crushed, and he did not know how to keep moving forward. He never got what he wanted in life and wasted his time dwelling on negative emotions.
“Alas, anger to get what you want is a cry for love being armed with the tools for war.”
- Lynne Namka
The driving theme:
Between these two individuals Lewis had a future and Goob had a past. The story is a lesson in taking the right steps. Goob (Bowler hat guy) abducts Lewis and brings him to their old room and finally reveals himself to start his bitter monologue. Lewis responds with his own self fulfilling prophecy that propels him into success.
Lewis - “Look I'm sorry your life turned out so bad, but don't blame me, you messed it up yourself! You just focused on the bad stuff when all you had to do was, let go of the past... and... Keep moving forward...”
The revelation finally sinks in.
Knowing Lewis' past he has probably been tempted to not let go of the pain he felt, but in the end his philosophy wins. All the mistakes Goob made have been undone, and Lewis whisks them both away to the front lawn and the Robinson home. He tries to get Wilbur to adopt Goob into the Robinson family, but after their discussion, Goob is gone and his old binder sits ajar on the ground with an unmet check list. The final line reads “The Future: ..?”
"I wish we could have seen what Goob's alternate future would have been like at the end of Meet the Robinson's. He probably would have gone on to be a famous baseball player, but I would have liked to see if he stayed in touch with Cornelius (Lewis' Nickname) and if he started a family as well." - Unknown
After all the resentment subsides Goob realizes that he has built his life around his resentment. With those final moments he looks around and doesn't know what his purpose is. Much like a former skateboarder that had been so captivated by an idea he forgot to live a life outside of it. I know about sifting, resentment and unrequited dreams because I lived it trying to escape the situations of the past and enveloping myself in a dream that was out of reach. I did it for 14 years. I still love the idea of skateboarding and watch pros from time to time but I don't have the desire to go back. By the time I stopped I found myself lacking purpose. I was very disappointed, but one fateful night I found myself at a young adults group in a church service and I had my own revelation. I should tell stories. I quickly gained new passions. I found dreams that are possible, friends that I can go deep with, and a creative side that I never knew existed. But I was still not dealing with the past. Two years later I see Meet the Robinson's.
This film helped me see the cause of my suffering and the effect it had on me. We have to let failure drive us to learn from our mistakes and from there we learn to succeed. And even though life can really beat us up like in Goob's subplot, we must keep moving forward like Lewis's legacy.
I mentioned a church earlier, I have always been religious. One of the biggest things I discovered while watching this film was that God is more than just God. He is also “father” or “abba.”. He wants to treat me like a son with all of its intimacies. My relationship with him deepened immensely. In fact the realization came from the question he asked me.
“If you could ask one question about the future what would it be?”
I know my response, and I hope you have one too.
Lewis meets Cornelius:
Lewis meets his future self and they have a conversation about their vision. The older Lewis instructs the younger to make the right choices and keep moving forward. 12 year old Lewis says good bye to his future family and Wilbur follows through with a promise he made to him for fixing the time machine. He takes Lewis to see his mother on the day she left him. His most rejected experience is standing right before him. He almost pulls on her coat to get her attention... but chooses to let her go. His resolve is that the future is good, and one tragic night shouldn't be revisited, keep moving forward. The final scene to tie this film together shows Lewis succeeding for the first time as an inventor. And now, standing before him, his adopted parents, his future wife (12 years old) and his perfectly functional memory scanner The future, like a seed in its small beginning. “Little Wonders” is a song by Rob Thomas that was made for this film. If you have time to listen to it pay attention to the lyrics. The strongest line for me sets up the rest of the track “Let your clarity define you in the end, we will only just remember how it feels.” Though the song is fairly ambiguous the chorus describes living life as a series of choices, small hours and twists of fate. Much like Lewis every choice we make is a twist or turn of fate, if we allow ourselves to fail and try again; if we don't give up when life hits us as hard as it can... If we let go of the past and keep moving forward we will experience a beautiful future, bright and unfolding right before us.