In the new Disney animated film "Meet the Robinsons," which opens Friday, a boy genius orphan named Lewis travels to the not-so-distant future, where he encounters a warm, loving and totally eccentric family.
Director Stephen J. Anderson admits one of the inspirations for the Robinson family was "You Can't Take It With You," the 71-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart comedy play and subsequent 1938 Oscar-winning best-film adaptation directed by Frank Capra. Like the Robinsons, the Depression-era Vanderhof-Sycamore clan consists of lovable oddballs who live life to the fullest.
"I had actually never seen either the play or the movie when I started on the film," Anderson says. "But when Bill Joyce, who wrote and illustrated the original book ['A Day With Wilbur Robinson'] got on the film and was consulting with us, he said, 'You have to watch this movie. It was a huge influence on me in creating the family in the book.' " So Anderson took Joyce's advice and fell in love with the Capra film's characters.
"Several times throughout the process, as we were trying to crack this family and come up with moments for them and how Lewis would interact with them, I would pop in the [video] movie and use it as an inspiration," the director says. "I love how accepting and free they are. 'Freedom' is the word to describe that family and [the Robinsons]. There is no normal. There is no abnormal. It's whatever makes you happy."
Anderson makes his directorial debut with the computer-animated film, which will be presented in digital 3-D. He was a story supervisor on "The Emperor's New Groove" (2000) and "Brother Bear" (2003).
He had expressed interest in directing, and after the completion of "Brother Bear," Anderson was given the script to "Meet the Robinsons" to see if it was something he'd like to develop and helm.
"I immediately connected to the material," Anderson says. "The boy Lewis is looking to be adopted and asking questions about his past, and I was adopted when I was an infant. I wasn't in an orphanage [like Lewis], but those questions that he's asking in the script were identical to the questions I asked when I knew I was adopted."
Anderson also supplies the delightfully wicked voice of Lewis' nemesis, Bowler Hat Guy. He's billed, though, as Stephen John Anderson for Screen Actors Guild issues. "You have to have a name that hasn't been used before," he says. "I ended up being a three-name actor!"
He was initially skeptical of 3-D technology, thinking it was "just a gimmick." But colleagues demonstrated that the format can be used as a powerful storytelling device.
"It's not just things popping out at the audience," Anderson says. "You can actually control it from moment to moment. So in the quiet moments, you can dial down the 3-D, and in the really intense moments, like when Lewis goes to the future city for the first time, you can dial the depth way up."