One of my favorite movies to watch when I was a kid was Disney’s animated film Meet the Robinsons. The story of a boy named Lewis trying to be adopted and have a family really tugged at my emotions. I never quite understood why this particular movie affected me so much. It’s not as if I hadn’t seen other films centered around adoption. Annie, Oliver!, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and Despicable Me are all great examples of adoption-themed movies. Yet, none of them carried the same impact as Meet the Robinsons.
It wasn’t until I watched it recently that I finally understood why Meet the Robinsons had such an effect on me; it’s because it tells a different adoption story than any other film. The Robinsons are not some cookie-cutter, stereotyped, perfect family, but one that is full of uniqueness and lots of love. In telling this different adoption story, Meet the Robinsons shows how family comes in all shapes and sizes, which is why it is the perfect movie to use when talking about adoption with children. This movie demonstrates how each family looks and acts a little differently but is family nonetheless.
Here are five ways Disney’s Meet the Robinsons tells a different adoption story.
1. Not the Typical Cast of Characters
Most adoption stories in the media today are centered around a young couple trying to adopt. A recent example of this would be the movie Instant Family, starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. Instead, Meet the Robinsons revolves around Lewis, a soon-to-be 13-year-old boy living in an orphanage.
Lewis is a genius inventor who is always thinking up new things to create. When we first encounter him, he is making an invention that would evenly distribute peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich. Lewis is quirky and slightly awkward—but endearing. He isn’t just the perfect angel child looking for a family, nor is he just the rebellious teen angry at the world; he is a complex character that exhibits both sets of emotions and more. Lewis is a kid who just wants to be loved and accepted.
The typical adoption portrayed in the media features either a baby or a child younger than eight; some examples would be Monica and Chandler’s twin babies in Friends and Meredith and Derek’s daughter in Grey’s Anatomy. In such stories, we cannot see how the adopted child feels about being placed for adoption because the child is just too young. However, Meet the Robinsons chooses to focus on an older child. Lewis is twelve, about to be thirteen. We can actually see how Lewis feels about being an orphan and wanting to be adopted.
Another interesting way the characters differ from the typical depiction is the adoptive parents are a little older and unconventional.
We meet Lucille Krunklehorn-Robinson at the school’s science fair, where she is a judge. Not only is she a scientist, as seen by her caffeine patch invention, but she also received a gold medal for the luge and swam the English Channel. Lucille is not a one-dimensional character where the only thing we know about her is that she eventually adopts Lewis. She has a personality and a sense of humor.
Buford “Bud” Robinson is a little less fleshed out, but he is certainly not lacking in personality. We first meet him as a slightly confused older man wearing his clothes backward and talking about when he used to be a teacher. It isn’t until later at the science fair that we find out he is married to Lucille.
The couple’s oddness would normally be something other stories would shy away from to preserve the clean image of adoptive parents, but the Robinsons’ quirkiness only adds to their charm. Lewis is a unique kid, and the Robinsons fit his personality like perfect puzzle pieces. Lucille and Bud are unapologetically themselves, just as Lewis is unapologetically himself, and they find a perfect family between the three of them.
2. Adoption Process
Unlike other adoption-themed films or shows, Meet the Robinsons shows some of the adoption processes.
In the first twenty minutes of the movie, we are able to see an example of an adoption interview. Lewis meets with the Harringtons as they are looking to adopt. During his interview with the Harringtons, Lewis tries very hard to be likable, even demonstrating one of his inventions to impress the couple. However, it is clear the couple is not a good fit for Lewis from the very start as Mr. Harrington immediately brushes Lewis’s passion for inventing aside to ask if he played any sports. When the demonstration goes awry, the Harringtons rush out of the room and tell Lewis’s caregiver that he is not fit for them. This scene gives a heartbreaking glimpse into the rejection Lewis must have felt in, what is later revealed as, 123 other failed adoption interviews.
Unfortunately for Lewis, the Harringtons were his 124th failed adoption interview showing that finding the right fit in adoption is not easy.
After the Harringtons, Lewis meets with a few other couples resulting in more rejection. We can also see some minor examples of Lewis’s roommate’s, Michael “Goob” Yagoobian’s, failed adoption interviews in the latter half of the movie.
3. Caring Adults
In the musicals Oliver! and Annie, the orphanages are depicted as harsh places with uncaring caregivers. This is not the case in Meet the Robinsons.
The Sixth Street Orphanage’s manager, Mildred, very clearly cares for the children. We can see her trying to console Lewis after his failed adoption interview. She insists he should not give up on being adopted and shows compassion when he expresses his disappointment to her. Mildred can be seen trying to help Lewis with his following interviews and caring for Goob when he seems down. She is genuinely concerned about the children’s well-being and actively tries to help them succeed in their own way, whether in inventions, baseball, or getting adopted.
Lewis seems to have another adult in his corner: his science teacher, Mr. Willerstein. Many movies depict teachers as uncaring and cruel, yet in Meet the Robinsons, Mr. Willerstein encourages Lewis in his inventing and allows him to explore his imagination. He constantly gives Lewis another chance after his inventions seemingly fail and never gives up hope that Lewis will eventually succeed.
Whereas many movies depict children having no support from the adults in their lives, Meet the Robinsons gives Lewis two present caregivers before he is even adopted.
4. Birth Mom
There is a conflict involving the birth family in almost every adoption-themed movie, and Meet the Robinsons is no different. However, instead of portraying the birth mom or family as a problem the child must overcome, Meet the Robinsons shows Lewis’s birth mother in a more compassionate light.
When Lewis is fighting with Mildred after the Harrington interview, he gets upset over being abandoned by his birth mother. He says no one wants him, not even his own mother. Mildred stops him before he can even continue that thought. She offers the scenario that rather than abandoning Lewis willy-nilly, his birth mother was possibly unable to take care of him and decided to give him to someone who could. Mildred frames it as a selfless act of a mother’s love and care for her child and not a selfish move of someone who didn’t want a baby. Mildred’s speech sheds a different light on adoption that many don’t acknowledge. It would be easy to write off Lewis’s mother as a selfish person, but Meet the Robinsons shows her compassion.
The audience also gets a glimpse of Lewis’s mother that Mildred does not. We are able to see her hold Lewis close, hug him, gaze at him, and almost not want to let him go. It is only when she hears a noise behind her that she decides to leave, glancing back at him for one last look. Once again, the audience, and Lewis, are presented with a different perspective on birth families that many movies do not touch.
5. Your Past Doesn’t Define You
Probably the biggest takeaway from Meet the Robinsons is Cornelius Robinson’s slogan, “keep moving forward.” The phrase is repeated so many times throughout the movie it’s impossible not to say it at least once after the movie is finished. But the phrase doesn’t just apply to inventions.
When Lewis is trying to find his mother, he thinks his past, or the people who make his past, will be able to make him happy. He believes if he can find his birth mother, he will finally have a family and be accepted. When Lewis begins making his invention to find his birth mother, he ignores the things around him, including more prospective adoptive parents. He is so focused on his past he ignores potential happiness in the present. It is only when he meets the Robinsons that his mindset changes. He finds a family in them even before discovering he was a part of the family all along. Knowing that he will find happiness in an adoptive family in the present makes him realize he doesn’t need his past to be happy.
Lewis also realizes that his past as an orphan or his identity as an adoptee does not need to define his life. At the beginning of the movie, Lewis sees his orphan status as a flaw holding him back from being great and accepted. As explained above, it is really his fixation on the past that is holding him back. When the villain is revealed to be an embittered Goob, scarred by the past failure of a lost baseball game he was unable to let go of, Lewis discovers what the Robinsons mean by “keep moving forward.” Your past failures or past perceived flaws should not determine your future actions.
That is the genius behind the Robinsons’ slogan, “keep moving forward,” it can mean so many things in so many different ways. “Keep moving forward” is applied to Lewis’s inventions, his life as an orphan, and his quest to be adopted. If Lewis keeps moving forward, he will find his happiness.
Disney’s Meet the Robinsons is such a cute, fun, and emotional movie. Instead of the stereotypical young couple looking to adopt an infant or toddler, we are presented with a nearly 13-year-old boy who lives in an orphanage and likes to make crazy inventions. Instead of the adoptive couple being the same stereotypical couple, we are given Lucille and Bud Robinson, eccentric science enthusiasts with slightly odd senses of humor. Instead of glossing over the struggles an older child endures trying to be adopted, Meet the Robinsons takes us inside adoption interviews and shows the audience that rejection. Lewis has caring adults in his life who try to lift him up rather than bringing him down. When Lewis’s birth mother is mentioned, we are not given a picture of a selfish woman giving away her baby but are painted the compassion-filled image of a woman trying to give her child a life she cannot provide. Finally, Meet the Robinsons has an overarching theme that we must not let our past define us; we must keep moving forward to find happiness. Meet the Robinsons is truly a different adoption story.