If you want your animated movie to thrill the kiddies, be sure it contains the following things: time machines, dinosaurs, robots and baseball. If you want your animated movie to appeal to the grown-ups that are required to get the kiddies into the theater, be sure it contains the following things: a clever sense of humor, some really impressive animation, a bunch of solid voice performances and a few life lessons that are sweet but not over-sappy. Then throw in a great score by Danny Elfman, an admirably speedy pace and more colorful characters that you'll know what to do with ... and voila: Disney's Meet the Robinsons, which is just about as good a CG feature as you can get without the words "Pixar Animation Studios" emblazoned across the opening credits. (Matter of fact, I had a lot more fun with the non-Pixar Meet the Robinsons than I did with last summer's Pixar flick Cars!)

Based on the book by William Joyce, Meet the Robinsons is about a sweet-natured prodigy who is also an orphan. Young Lewis is a true-blue genius to be sure, but his technological obsessions always manage to scare potential parents away. Lewis has precisely one caring guardian and one loyal pal, yet of course he dreams of fitting in with a traditional family all his own. But when a devious mishap at a local science fair introduces Lewis to Wilbur Robinson (a crazy kid who claims to own a time machine), our little hero is in for a whole lot of craziness. Suffice to say he finally meets up with a loving family ... but "traditional" doesn't even come close to describing this futuristic clan.

It seems that the nefarious "Bowler Hat Guy" will stop at nothing to acquire Lewis' latest invention: a "memory scanner" that brings forgotten recollections to life. Fortunately the plucky young Wilbur knows what's going on, and he's arrived just in time to help Lewis save the day ... and his future! To say much more would spoil a lot of the fun, but let's just say little Lewis ends up bouncing through the future, meeting all of Wilbur's wacky relations, avoiding the wrath of Bowler Hat Guy (and his sidekick Doris), and discovering what's so darn important about that crazy "memory scanner," anyway.

One might expect a long-gestating animated comedy that claims six (!) separate screenwriters to be kind of a loud and boisterous mess, but director Stephen J. Anderson (who also, very amusingly, provides the voice of the villain) reins in so many disparate components that I left the theater unexpectedly impressed. Meet the Robinsons moves like a shot, offers dozens of eye-popping treats, and delivers quite a few more "grown-up style" chuckles than you might anticipate. There's tons of eye candy in there for the kids, but what impressed me most is the humor found in even some of the most off-hand lines of dialogue. The voice actors seem like they were hired for color and characterization and not simply for big-name marquee value, and that's a nice divergence from CG formula. (It's just cool to sit back and get close to the characters without constantly wondering who those familiar voices belong to!)

Meet the Robinsons
has a good heart, a stunning array of visual goodies, a bunch of lovable characters, a handful of whiz-bang set pieces, and a time-twisting plot that never gets too convoluted for its own good. Frankly I dug the flick a whole lot more than I expected to, and I think it represents a solid step forward for the recently floundering Disney Animation unit. These guys needed to prove that they could turn out the quality outside of their Pixar releases (I'm sorry but Chicken Little just didn't do it for me), and I'm very pleased to note that Meet the Robinsons is simply a rock-solid piece of animated sci-fi comedy that'll tickle the kids, amuse the parents, and leave everyone walking out of the theater on a sweet little flick-buzz. Not a bad way to spend a few hours with the family, if you're asking me.