March Madness and Disney Twitter combined this year to make sure that everybody reveals their true feelings about which Disney movie should reign supreme. I spent at least fifteen minutes last night working through my personal decisions, but I couldn?t shake the fact that one of my favorite Disney movies didn?t even make the first round.
Meet the Robinsons (2007) tells the story of a young inventor, LEWIS, whose search for his birth mother culminates in a journey through time with a mysterious time-traveler named Wilbur Robinson.
I remember freaking out in the movie theater with my best friend over the inventions and the music and the TWISTS in this film. We picked up on some of them but still loved seeing the reveals play out. Even now, eleven years and so many viewings later, I laugh and cry with each beat of the movie. So, how does this movie do it? How do any of our favorites manage to hold onto us time and time again, even as our lives keep moving forward?
The answer?s in the storytelling, and the best way to analyze that is to break it down into the acts, the sequences, and the scenes that make up Meet the Robinsons.
For the rest of this, I will be utilizing: (1) the basic three act film structure, and (2) the eight-sequence method, along with doing the breakdown. Sequences are best described as arcs within the overall story that each answer a dramatic question. Okay, on to the breakdown.
SEQUENCE 1/A: the world as it is (ends with inciting incident)MDQ: Will Lewis get adopted?
(1) FLASHBACK: A hooded woman (LEWIS? BIRTH MOTHER) hurries up the steps of an orphanage. She holds her son to her before startling and leaving him in a box outside the door. The owner of the orphanage, MILDRED, opens the door, and scans the area before taking the baby inside.
(2) PRESENT, TWELVE YEARS LATER: Lewis builds a new invention while his roommate, GOOB, helps him. Goob talks about how everybody on his baseball relies on him, but Lewis doesn?t listen to anything he says. Potential parents arrive at the orphanage, andGoob has to snap Lewis back to the present moment.
(3) Mildred coaches Lewis through how to show the parents how special he is. They all hope he gets adopted.
(4) Lewis shows his invention to the adoptive parents who seem interested in what sports he likes rather than what actually interests him. Lewis turns on his PB&J sandwich maker, but it jams, exploding all over the Harringtons. His invention causes an allergic reaction for Mr. Harrington. The Harringtons leave as Lewis apologizes.
(5) Mildred goes to Lewis on the roof. He insists, ?I have no future. No one wants me,? because even his own mom didn?t want him. Mildred counters that they don?t know that; maybe his mom just couldn?t keep him. Lewis hears that as his mom must wants him. He was the only one who saw her, so he decides to build an invention to look into the past and find his mom.
MDQ Answer: No, they aren?t the right family for him.New Choice: He sets out to find his mom.
SEQUENCE 2/B: Hero tries solving problem, doesn?t work. Ends with turning point.MDQ: Will Lewis? new invention work?
(6) MONTAGE: Lewis works on his invention. He goes to college, operating rooms, even presents in his own classes. He skips adoption interviews to work on it and keeps Goob up all the time building it.
(7) Finally, it?s the day of the science fair. Lewis doesn?t get a chance to try his memory scanner because his alarm goes off. In the background, Goob can hardly stay awake. He has an easy baseball game today. Mildred reminds Lewis about an adoption interview and tells him, ?You?ve got to get your head out of the past, and look to the future.?
Lewis says, ?I am. This is my future.?
(8) Now, at the science fair, Lewis sets up his Memory Scanner. The inventor of the caffeine patch (DR. KRUNGLEHORN) will judge the fair with the science teacher. A new kid ? WILBUR ? walks around, following after Lewis. Wilbur asks if a Bowler Hat Guy has come up to Lewis at all, but Lewis waves him off for being weird.
Wilbur then tackles somebody he thinks is the Bowler Hat Guy. He knocks over a bunch of frogs, and some strange girl (FRANNY) insists on Wilbur helping her find them.
Wilbur?s distraction gives the real BOWLER HAT GUY a chance to swoop in. His hat lifts off his head and flies over to Lewis? invention, where it unscrews some bolts on the still covered Memory Scanner.
Lewis inputs the date his mom left him into the scanner and, for a moment, the machine works. Then, the loose fan launches off the machine and sets off a catastrophic avalanche of messed up science experiments.
Everything?s ruined all because of Lewis? invention. Lewis throws down the helmet and runs out of the fair without his project.
The Bowler Hat puts the Memory Scanner back together, and Bowler Hat Guy picks up the scanner and leaves.
(9) Back on the roof, Lewis rips pages out of his journal. Wilbur throws them back to Lewis each time. Wilbur reveals then that he?s from the future, but since Lewis won?t believe him, Wilbur tosses Lewis into the time machine and launches them both into the future.
(10) Wilbur shows off the future, flying through all sorts of Robinson inventions. Now that Lewis knows he?s legit, Wilbur tries to take Lewis back, but Lewis takes control of the machine. They crash it, wrecking the time machine.
(11) Wilbur wants Lewis to fix the machine. Lewis bargains that if he fixes the time machine, Wilbur will take him back to see his mom. Wilbur agrees.
MDQ Answer: No, his invention was sabotaged.New Choice: Lewis will take the time machine back to his mom instead.
SEQUENCE 3/C (?New World / Special World?): new course of action; headed for midpoint MDQ: Can Lewis fix the time machine?
(12?14) BACK IN THE PAST, Bowler Hat Guy attempts to pass off the Memory Scanner as his own. The Bowler Hat ? DORIS ? coaches him through it. He wants to crush Lewis? dreams, but he hasn?t thought this through. He can?t even figure out how to turn it on. They?ll need Lewis back if they?ll be able to pull this off.
(15) Wilbur and Lewis push their broken machine into the garage. Wilbur reveals that his mom never goes in there and his dad is away until the next day, giving the ticking clock for fixing the machine. They get help from CARL, the family robot. Carl freaks out over seeing Lewis. Wilbur puts a hat over Lewis? hair and takes off to find Carl. He tells Lewis to stay there.
(16?17) Lewis wanders into a portal and winds up on the front yard. The front door opens to a GIANT OCTOPUS MONSTER.
(18) Carl rants about how bad all of this is. Wilbur reveals his plan to have Lewis fix the time machine and how he doesn?t intend on taking Lewis to the past. Carl gives the stakes that Wilbur won?t exist if this plan goes wrong.
(19?26) Lewis meets GRANDPA, who plans to take Lewis back to the garage. Lewis meets the rest of the family. Everyone except Wilbur?s dad. They find Grandpa?s teeth with Franny?s frogs.
(21) Wilbur gets back to the garage, but Lewis isn?t there. He starts looking for Lewis too.
(26) Lewis and Wilbur crash into each other. Lewis goes back through everyone who he met. He asks what Wilbur?s dad, Cornelius, looks like, and Wilbur says, ?Tom Selleck.?
(27) In the past again, Doris and Bowler Hat Guy go to the orphanage. They can?t find Lewis, but BHG sees Goob, back from the baseball game with a steak covering a fresh black eye. Goob fell asleep during the game and lost the whole thing. BHG warns Goob against forgiving Lewis, saying instead, ?Heed my words, Goob. Don?t let it go.?
(28) BHG and Doris search the roof and realize that Wilbur has taken Lewis to the future. They follow as well.
(29) Lewis doubts that he can fix the machine, even as he tries. Wilbur keeps saying, ?Keep moving forward.? It?s his dad?s motto. Then Wilbur explains how his dad built everything in Robinson Industries, including Carl and the time machines. Through each failure, his dad keeps moving forward and eventually gets the time machine right.
(29b) Bowler Hat Guy arrives in the future.
(30 / MONTAGE) Lewis keeps working. They try the time machine, but the engine sputters and the whole thing crashes again. Lewis gives up again.
Franny calls them for dinner, and the boys head up, so she won?t come down to the garage.
MDQ Answer: No, the time machine is too hard.New Choice: Lewis joins the Robinson family for dinner.
SEQUENCE 4/D (?Game?): Hero drives to what they think will be ultimate answer, but midpoint is here.MDQ: Will Lewis find a new family with the Robinsons?
(31?32) BHG gets a MINI-DORIS, so Doris can focus on capturing Lewis. BHG proves to be useless. Meanwhile, Doris gets into the house.
(33) At dinner, Franny?s frogs perform. The whole family eats spaghetti, using all these different inventions throughout. Carl reminds Wilbur about the stakes. The family tries to get to know Lewis, but Lewis? past knowledge means he slips up a lot. Family wants him to take his hat off, but Wilbur starts a food fight to distract everyone.
(34) Doris closes in to the dining room.
(35) On to the next course, Carl breaks out a PB&J machine, just like the one Lewis made. It glitches, so Wilbur offers Lewis up to fix it. Lewis resists, but Uncle Joe?s gonna explode without having PB&J. They beg.
(36?37) BHG uses Mini-Doris to control Frankie, leader of the frogs. Frankie approaches the table, but he can?t seize Lewis since he?s legit a frog. He warns that BHG hasn?t thought this through.
(38) Lewis hands the PB&J machine over to Carl. It works for a moment, but it explodes. Lewis apologizes like the first time he used it. But instead of being upset, the whole family applauds. ?From failing, you learn. From success, not so much.? Keep moving forward.
(39) BHG gets rid of Frankie. Mini-Doris hovers over a dinosaur plant, and BHG decides to get a dinosaur.
(40) Doris starts cutting down the chandelier. Lewis says, ?If I had a family, I?d want them to be just like you.? Franny finds out that Lewis is an orphan. Before the chandelier can drop, the T-REX crashes into the dining room.
(41) The Robinsons band together to save Lewis from the T-Rex. T-Rex corners Lewis, but ?big head and tiny arms? means that they can?t do it. Again, BHG fails to see the bigger plan. Wilbur recognizes the small bowler hat and nearly gets eaten. Lewis then has to save Wilbur. Wilbur uses the meatball launcher to knock Mini-Doris off the T-Rex.
(42) Franny?s frogs trap Mini-Doris in the trunk.
(43) Doris hits BHG for messing up her plan.
(44) Lewis and Wilbur realize how great of a team they make. Lewis accidentally calls Franny ?Mom? in his excitement. Wilbur tries to take Lewis home, but Franny and the other Robinsons invite Lewis to join their family. Lewis agrees. As the family cheers, Wilbur knocks off Lewis? hat, revealing his hair. Franny changes her mind instantly, says that Lewis has to go back to his own time. Wilbur reveals the truth about the time machines. Lewis wants to go back to see his mom still, but Wilbur admits he was never gonna do that either.
Lewis takes off.
(45) Bowler Hat Guy and Doris offer to take Lewis to see his mom if Lewis fixes the Memory Scanner. As Wilbur approaches, Lewis agrees, going with BHG into the time machine and away into the night.
MDQ Answer: Yes, but they won?t keep him.New Choice: Lewis leaves with Bowler Hat Guy.
SEQUENCE 5/E (?Grace?): often subplots take centerMDQ: Will Lewis help BHG? & Will BHG?s plan work?
(46) Lewis fixes his memory scanner. BHG betrays Lewis and helps Lewis realize that Lewis is Wilbur?s dad. BHG wants to ruin Lewis? future. Why? Because he is Goob.
(47?53 / NARRATED FLASHBACKS) BHG recounts how he lost the baseball game and everybody hated him because of it. At the same time, we see that kids still talked to him, but Goob never paid them any attention. He rants during adoption interviews too.
Goob grows more and more bitter as Lewis becomes more and more successful. Now grown in the flashbacks, Bowler Hat Goob eggs and TP?s Robinson Industries. There, though, he meets Doris, a Lewis-invented Helping Hat who wants more for her life. Future-Lewis thought that he shut her down, but he hadn?t. Doris teams up with Goob for their mutual revenge. Goob knew just the moment to go back to, and Doris knew how to do it.
(48) OUT OF THE FLASHBACK, BHG blames it all on Lewis. Lewis tells BHG that if he?d let go of the past and kept ?moving forward,? instead of focusing on the bad stuff, his life would?ve turned out better. BHG would rather blame Lewis.
(49) On the orphanage roof once again, BHG pushes a tied-up Lewis forward. Carl and Wilbur coo to get Lewis? attention, and Lewis dives into the wagon that his scanner?s in and rides right off the roof and over to his friends!
(50) Carl, Wilbur, and Lewis celebrate during their return home. Lewis tells Wilbur that he knows everything. They?re almost home when DORIS YANKS THROUGH CARL?S CHEST. They all fall, and Doris takes the machine and goes into the past.
(51) BHG returns to Inventco with the scanner.
(50 cont) Wilbur tries to get Lewis to fix the time machine, but Lewis still won?t try.
(51 cont) BHG shows the scanner and signs the paperwork.
(50 cont) Wilbur gets sucked into the changing time!
MDQ: Yes, and now, he?s lost everyone! And the machine!New Choice: Lewis tries getting help from the family.
SEQUENCE 6/F (?A Truth Comes Out? // ?Question Changes?): Hero thinks this is the final pushMDQ: Will Lewis (finally) fix the time machine?
(52?53) Lewis rushes into the Robinson garage, but no one is there. The only thing there is a screen that shows what?s happened in the new future.
After BHG passed off the scanner to Inventco, he suggested a Helping Hat. Only the Helping Hats take over everything, turning on Goob and controlling the whole of the future.
In real time, the Robinsons ? controlled by Helping Hats ? try to capture Lewis. He locks himself in the broken time machine while they pound on the outside of it. He scrambles to fix the machine, and he SUCCEEDS!
(54) A GIANT DORIS chases after Lewis?s time machine. He sees what?s become of the world now as all the Helping Hands attack. Lewis must go into the past with the time machine, not to his mom but to the science fair.
MDQ Answer: Yes, the time machine works.New Choice: Lewis goes back to stop Goob.
SEQUENCE 7/G (?B-Story Saves A-Story?): From Darkest Night, comes final battle; final twist @ endMDQ: Can Lewis save Goob and their futures?
(55) Lewis lands in the past just as Goob signs the paperwork. Lewis tells Goob that Doris will get rid of him, and Doris immediately goes on the offensive. Lewis doesn?t back down, though; he tells her, ?I am never going to invent you.? Then he takes Goob to see what Doris? future looked like.
(56) Lewis drives Goob through the Darkest Timeline. The Good and True timeline reconstructs around them. Wilbur comes back! Lewis uses his fatherly power to get Wilbur to adopt Goob. But Goob?s left by the time Wilbur offers. Goob leaves behind his To Do List with a question mark as the only thing on the page. Goob watches from the distance as Wilbur and Lewis head into their home.
(57) The family embraces Lewis. Cornelius comes through the house and finds the family, Lewis included. They make sure Cornelius knows it was Wilbur?s doing.
(58) Cornelius shows Lewis their lab, including the invention he?s most proud of: the Memory Scanner. Cornelius tells Lewis he has to make the right choices and keep moving forward, and this can be his future. Lewis asks if they?ll see what Mom looks like, and Cornelius tells Lewis to get back to the fair and find out for himself.
(59) The Robinsons wave Lewis off. Everybody?s got tips for the future, including Franny (?I?m always right?) and his future adoptive parents (?We?ll see you real soon?).
(60?61) Lewis gets into the time machine with Wilbur. Wilbur takes them away, but not to the science fair, to the day that Lewis was left at the orphanage. (TWIST! Wilbur follows through on the original deal.)
(62) Outside the machine, Lewis? Mom approaches the orphanage. Lewis heads up the steps, but as he reaches out, he stops. He runs off, which is the sound that got his mom to leave before. Lewis watches her run away and knocks on the door before heading back to the time machine. Mildred comes outside and doesn?t see any of them, so she heads in with Baby Lewis.
MDQ Answer: Yes, but this Goob can?t just be adopted. Their earlier solutions aren?t valid anymore.New Choice: Lewis goes back to his present day.
SEQUENCE 8/H (Resolution / ?Final Moment of Tension?)MDQ: Will Lewis win the science fair? Will he get his family?
(63) Lewis says he let his mom go because ?I already have a family.? He hugs Wilbur and takes off for the science fair.
(64) Lewis stops on his way in to wake up Goob at the baseball game. Goob catches the ball! Everybody cheers for him!
(65) At the fair, Lewis pleads for one more chance. Caffeine Patch Lady volunteers and whispers a date to Lewis to plug in. The memory scanner works perfectly. The screen lights up with her wedding day. We watch from her POV her walk down the aisle to a man in backwards clothes.
Lewis recognizes him, just as Bud arrives. He puts it together: Lucille and Bud are right here at the science fair. Bud starts to rename him, and Lewis offers up ?Cornelius.?
Franny and Lewis meet each other. She assumes he?ll think she?s crazy for the frogs, but he says he thinks she?s right.
A REPORTER says he has a bright future ahead of him. He looks out at his family and says, ?Yeah.?
(66?72) He packs up at the orphanage. He says goodbye to Goob, who?s in an adoption meeting, and Mildred before leaving with Bud and Lucille. They move in to the house and show him what?ll be the lab. He runs back to his family and they embrace. The lab fills with papers as he works, then inventions, and we pull on back to a Walt Disney quote that essentially boils down to keep moving forward.
MDQ Answer: Yes, Lewis gets his family. New Choice: He keeps moving forward.
& that?s about it.
If you?ve gone through this whole breakdown with me, what stands out for you structurally as you go through the movie? How do the reveals and repetition work together to culminate in a satisfying ending, even when we technically know exactly where it?s going?
On a technical standpoint, do you agree on where I drew the sequences? Or on the major dramatic questions?
Comment below; let?s chat.