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The folks from Pixar "Meet the Robinsons"

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The folks from Pixar "Meet the Robinsons"

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You know, no one in Hollywood ever wants to admit that their film may be in trouble. Out of concern as to what that particular piece of information might then do to that motion picture's long-term box office prospects.

So -- earlier this month -- when the Walt Disney Company quietly revealed that it was changing "Meet the Robinsons" 's release date from December 15, 2006 to March 30, 2007, Mouse House officials were quick to poo-poo the idea that this Stephen Anderson film might be in trouble.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

When asked why the film's release date was being pushed back by some three-and-a-half-months, they tried to put a positive spin on the story. Insisting that "Meet the Robinsons" was just being pulled out of the crowded 2006 Holiday field so that this WDFA film could then take advantage of a wide open release date in late March of 2007.

In short, this was strictly a strategic move on Disney's part. It had absolutely nothing to do with any story problems that this Stephen Anderson film was rumored to have had.

Well, if that were really the case ... Then why was a copy of "Meet the Robinsons" reportedly shipped off to Emeryville this past Monday morning?

Photo by Nancy Stadler

From what I've heard over the past couple of days ... The main reason that Mickey supposedly sent this still-in-production picture north is that the folks at Walt Disney Feature Animation were kind of hoping that John Lasseter and Co. might have some ideas about how to get "Meet the Robinsons" 's story back on track.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

"So what's wrong with 'the Robinsons'?," you ask. Well, the current scuttlebutt is that this Stephen Anderson film has second act problems. That while "Meet the Robinsons" starts out strong & solid and that the end of the picture remains heartfelt and emotionally satisfying, it's the middle of this motion picture that's kind of in a muddle right now.

As one WDFA insider told me earlier this week:

"It's the scene where Wilbur first meets the Robinsons where this film really starts to go off track. I mean, the screen is suddenly filled with all of these characters who are behaving oddly because they're supposed to seen as colorful eccentrics. As you watch this sequence unfold, you just don't get any sense of family connection here, that this is supposed to be a group of characters that genuinely care about one another. Which is what then makes it difficult for the audience to emotionally connect with these characters."

"But ... But ... But ...," you sputter. "Wasn't 'A Day with Wilbur Robinson' (I.E. This WDFA production's original title) rumored to be this near-perfect film in rough form? With WDFA employees reportedly coming out of its early screenings saying things like 'If we can just get those storyboards as is up on the big screen, we've already got a hit movie'? If that was the case back then, then why is this film supposedly in trouble now?"

Photo by Nancy Stadler

To be blunt ... The original storyboards for "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" weren't transferred directly to the screen as is. Given that this was the very first theatrical release that the then-head of Disney Feature Animation, David Stainton, had personally put into production ... Well, David allegedly had a lot of notes for Stephen. And -- with each new set of notes -- "A Day with Wilbur Robinson" got more and more diluted. Moving further & further away from that original strong first draft.

This is where supposedly the folks from Pixar now come in. Their mission (as I understand it) is to figure out how to de-Stainton-ify this feature. As in: To quietly shore up the second act of Anderson's film. So that "Meet the Robinsons" can then play solidly all the way through.

Mind you, you shouldn't expect the folks from Emeryville to make a lot of noise and/or take a lot of credit for the work that they're about to do on "Meet the Robinsons." After all, these guys understand perfectly how embarassing it can be for a film-maker to have to admit publicly that their picture may be in trouble.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Case in point: Let's look at what happened last Friday at Disney's annual shareholder meeting. When John Lasseter first revealed to the world that "Ratatouille" had changed directors. Listen to how carefully Lasseter chose his words as he stood on the stage at Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond, revealing that Pixar's Summer 2007 release was:

" ... a film that's now being supervised by Brad Bird, based on a story that Jan Pinkava originated"

You get what I'm saying here? John really didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings here by openly stating that Jan Pinkava was no longer riding herd on "Ratatouille," that Brad Bird is now in charge of this Pixar project.

But make no mistake, folks. "Ratatouille" is now Brad Bird's show. He's now wholly invested in making this 2007 release work. So much so that Brad actually provides the voice for the film's title character in "Ratatouille" 's teaser trailer. Though -- the way I hear it -- as pleased as Disney & Pixar execs may be with Bird's vocals, they're still looking around for some sort of celebrity to ultimately voice this role in the finished motion picture.

Anyway ... Just to review here: "Meet the Robinsons" has minor story problems. With the accent there being on the word "minor." Which is why this film's release date actually got pushed back from mid-December of 2006 to late March of 2007.

Earlier this week, a print of this Stephen Anderson film was supposedly sent up to Emeryville. With the hope that the folks at Pixar can then figure out a way to shore up "Meet the Robinsons" 's second act. In short, remove many of the "improvements" that were allegedly made to this motion picture while David Stainton was still in charge of WDFA.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

And given that -- back in 1999 -- it took John Lasseter and Co. only nine months to turn "Toy Story 2" from a direct-to-video disappointment to what many folks have called the animated equivalent of "The Godfather, Part II" (I.E. A sequel that was actually better than the film that originally inspired it), I'm sure that the next 12 months is plenty of time for the people at Pixar to shore up "Meet the Robinsons" 's saggy mid section.

So what do you folks think? Are you actually looking forward to the big-screen version of this William Joyce book? Or is there some other WDFA or Pixar project that you're more anxious to see?

Your thoughts?

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