Tonight I went to a midnight showing of Disney’s latest computer animated movie, Meet the Robinsons (G). It was a 3-D showing– with 3-D glasses, dual projectors, etc. I was very impressed, and not just because of the superb presentation. It’s also a compelling storyline, and it’s told in a very entertaining way. Academic types are likely to find the storyline too trite, simple, and predictable, but I believe that if you watch it with an open mind, you’ll find that the way the story is told is quite excellent. [Spoiler alert. If you read the rest of this post, something may be spoiled for you. Personally, it wouldn't bother me, but I'm warning you in case you felt differently.]
Of course, it also helps that they have very compelling characters that many of us can identify with. Surprisingly, not everyone does, as I learned when attempting to discuss the movie in-depth with the people in my car on the way back to USC. While Ihi was very interested in analyzing it from a theological standpoint, the other two in the car didn’t seem nearly as interested. For me, I was just bursting with ideas.
Let’s start with the picture’s main character, Lewis. I initially imagined his name as “Louis” in my mind, though I’m not sure why. Sidenote: I’m a very visual person. Almost everything I hear in audio has to become written text in my mind before I can comprehend it. Maybe that’s why my hearing seems bad and I can’t understand mumbling too well. If it’s not exactly right, if some sounds are missing, or if the word is spelled wrongly in my mind, I’ll lose track of what’s being said. Perhaps that’s why I tend to be, in practice, a good speller– despite having a terrible memory. It’s not about memorizing spellings, but just understanding them, if you know what I mean.
So I identify with Lewis. I’m sure this is intended by the creators, and probably fairly common too, because Theo said Lewis is his new favorite Disney character. I have to agree. He is a very appealing character, despite being a geek. As Leo Laporte says (though he didn’t make it up), “Geek is the new black.” And for a geek like me, I can’t help but feel good inside that people can actually identify with a guy who plays no sports, has funky hair, wears glasses, and pulls out a peanut-butter-and-jelly gun he invented when potential adopters ask if he plays any sports. “Is inventing a sport?”
It helps that Lewis is a smart kid, with the freedom to take full advantage of the amazing resources we have in the modern digital age. He goes to the university library and reads up on books, he takes classes and impresses his professors. But it’s not about school. It’s about inventing. Every single thing he does in the early part of the movie is for purely practical ends. None of that theoretical nonsense. He’s a real scientist. He builds things. He welds things, cuts stuff apart, glues stuff together.
That’s me. As you may know, I love building stuff. I’ve played with LEGOs longer than I can remember. I actually follow the directions, finish through the end, and then pull it all apart to come up with something new and different. I write down plans on paper, and research everything that I do. Most days, I perform more than 40 searches on Google. I’m constantly exploring, discovering, and pushing boundaries around me. In high school, I got together a team of students to build a real solar car from scratch. So it made me smile to see Lewis doing things similar to what I did, welding and cutting metal, and writing down measurements, calculations and diagrams of how things’ll look. (I’d love to watch those scenes of the movie again. I’ll seriously consider buying it just for that reason.) It’s a good way to do things, and I only wish I was more organized. But organization isn’t important. It’s all in my head, or hard drive as the case would have it.
The best part of Lewis in the early part of the movie is his initiative, which he clearly demonstrates in the early parts of the movie. This follows him through to the end, where he’s shown in his new huge room with lots of desk space and tons of papers. He thinks of something, and then he really goes out and does it. People think of things all the time, but they stop themselves. Why? This is just like what Paul Graham talked about at Startup School 2007. His 16 reasons why people don’t start startups (which also applies more broadly to risky innovation):
- Too young
- Too inexperienced
- Not determined enough
- Not smart enough
- Don’t understand business
- No co-founder
- No idea
- No room for more startups
- Have a family to support
- Independently wealthy
- Don’t fence me in
- Have a need for structure
- Fear of uncertainty
- Don’t realize what you’re avoiding
- Parents want you to be a doctor
- A job is the default
Among these, only reasons 3, 6, 9, 10, 12, 15 are good ones; he shot down the rest. And of these, none of them apply to me. Not a single one. They didn’t apply to Lewis, either, which is an immediate link between us. And as I mentioned earlier, seeing someone with determination like his, to scientifically engineer new inventions and apply himself to studies for the practical purposes of buliding something (in his own bedroom!) was very refreshing. And it also encourages me to aspire to greater levels of innovation myself. What do you think? Do you think Lewis is similar to me? (It’s OK to say no.)
There’s a ton more I could write about the movie, but I’ll keep my figurative mouth shut unless something ignites me to spend more time writing about it (or someone writes a response to this post; I love written discussions). Possible future topics: time travel and how it affects our perspective on today; memory and the ability of a machine to help us realize it; family and the importance of encouragement.