Meet The Robinsons' Director Had A Personal Connection To The Material [Exclusive]

As a vocal and dedicated champion of all things animation, I have no shame in admitting to having some borderline "hipster opinions" about Disney movies. For starters, I firmly believe that Stephen J. Anderson's "Meet the Robinsons," the second all-CGI film for the company, is one of the best films to come out of Walt Disney Animation Studios — ever. The film celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, but it remains an under-appreciated feature in the canon of Disney classics.

Loosely based on William Joyce's book "A Day with Wilbur Robinson," Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" centers on an orphaned boy genius named Lewis, who invents a machine with the ability to extract and project memories. Unfortunately, a mysterious villain known as Bowler Hat Guy steals it. Lewis feels hopeless, that is until a time traveler named Wilbur Robinson arrives to bring him to the future. Lewis is thrust into the adventure of a lifetime, meeting Wilbur's eccentric Robinson family, and discovering a secret about himself that could change the course of his life.

/Film's own Shania Russell recently crafted an oral history of the film for its anniversary and learned that Stephen J. Anderson, writer/director/voice of Bowler Hat Guy,  shared a connection with Lewis that made him acutely qualified to tell the story of "Meet the Robinsons." The big secret that Lewis uncovers while traveling in the future is that he will one day become a Robinson, and that his inventions will change the world for the better. This young boy spends almost the entire movie desperately hoping to find a family that loves him as he is, which is something Anderson innately understood as an adoptee himself.

'I was immediately taken by it'

"Meet the Robinsons" was an off-and-on project for Disney for many years, with plenty of workers having a vague idea of the story, but not a lot of details. Pam Coats, the head of development at the time, had approached Stephen J. Anderson about the project, hoping he would be interested in developing and possibly directing the film. "I was immediately taken by it for all kinds of reasons," he says. "The number one reason being that I was adopted, so I completely understood this protagonist, Lewis."

Adoption stories in media, just like the for-profit adoption industry in America, often center around a parental desire to have a child, and not a child in crisis. "Meet the Robinsons" is told from Lewis' perspective as an older child trapped in a system that prioritizes babies above all else. "I completely understood his emotional state as a young boy, wondering where he came from and who his birth mother was," Anderson says.

"I had asked the same questions as a child," Anderson said, as he confirmed that Disney had no knowledge of his adoptee status, so bringing him the project was a complete coincidence. His shared lived experience with the main character allowed him to bring in worthwhile knowledge and helped shape the story into an authentic and touching tale of family. "From a personal standpoint, I wanted to bring more of that adopted child perspective to the story."

More than just a framework

When recalling the first draft of "Meet the Robinsons," Stephen J. Anderson remembered there being an adoption angle to the story, but that it was a minor framework included in the beginning and the end. Recognizing the importance of telling a story from the perspective of a hopeful adoptee, Anderson made changes to make the adoption aspect central to the story. "I wanted to bring that to the forefront," he says. "So that was really what Lewis's emotional journey was throughout the story, was wanting to find somebody to connect to ... wanting to find someone who wanted him."

"Meet the Robinsons" actually tells two tales of adoption, one of Lewis, and the other of his roommate Michael "Goob" Yagoobian, who is revealed to grow up and turn into the Bowler Hat Guy. As much as the film is a delightful romp filled with superhero pizza delivery guys voiced by Adam West, a talking T-Rex, singing frogs, and an evil sentient bowler hat, it's also an honest look at the importance of meeting the needs of children in crisis. Lewis eventually gets the support he needs, but in the current timeline, Goob does not, and it sends him on a path of destruction. That's not to say children cannot thrive without the presence of a parental figure, but it sure does make things easier. 

It's evident that the reason the adoption plot of the film is so revered is because of Anderson's personal connection, and "Meet the Robinsons" is the best possible version of the story because of his contributions.