Robots is the latest computer-generated animated feature
from Blue Sky Studios, whose last effort was 2002’s big hit,
Ice Age. The success of Ice Age enabled directors
Wedge and Saldanha to make Robots,
and judging by the preview, an Ice Age sequel as well.
Ice Age is definitely not a modern classic, nor is it of Pixar
quality, but the film is decent enough and so is Robots.
Robots takes place in a world where everything, from
watches to lampposts to fire hydrants, is a robot. The story focuses
on the rather vanilla Rodney Copperbottom (McGregor)
from Rivet Town. Rodney is an aspiring and talented inventor, and
after receiving encouragement from Herb (Tucci),
his dishwasher father, Rodney sets out to the big Robot City to
meet and work for his inspiration, Big Weld (Brooks).
However, Rodney discovers that things have changed when he arrives
in Robot City. Big Weld’s company has been taken over by—what
else?—a money-hungry evil corporate executive, Phineas T.
Ratchet (Kinnear). Ratchet has discontinued selling
cheaper spare parts to robots through Big Weld’s organization.
The only way robots can continue functioning and keep from becoming
outmoded is to buy fancy, over-priced upgrades. If the robots become
outmodes, Gestapo-like robot things take them to the scrap heap,
which is run by Ratchet’s homely mother, Madame Gasket (Broadbent).
Rodney finds help and friendship in a band of misfit robots including
Fender (Williams, whose character is not even half
a step away from Genie in Aladdin and Batty Coda in Ferngully)
and his friends: Piper (Bynes), Crank (Carey),
Lug (Harland Williams), and Coolidge
as Aunt Fanny (Guess why they call her that). Rodney also receives
assistance from one of Ratchet’s employees, Cappy (Berry).
For some of these characters, I really didn’t see the point
in casting such big names. Berry for instance, plays a character
who adds very little to the plot, and it seems the only reason high
maintenance players like her were cast in such insignificant roles
was the fact that Fox wanted to put her name on the poster—perhaps
to drag more parents into the theatre. I vaguely remember James
Earl Jones getting a credit in this movie for something
that isn’t even worth the budget for the text of his name.
What I enjoyed about Robots, aside from the impressive
animation, which is definitely a step-up from Ice Age,
was its youthful enthusiasm, high imagination, and vision—traits
lacking in the Dreamworks/PDI CG-animated movies such as Shark
Tale and the Shrek series.
Two sequences in particular brought me back to my days of youth
in a productive way. One is when Rodney travels in Robot City in
a sort of capsule ball meant as transportation. He is then elaborately
zipped from point A to point B in such a creative way that it just
made me smile. There’s another scene involving an excessive
fall of dominos. What I liked about these sequences was that they
reminded me of how much I loved building things like that with an
erector set or Legos, and how I used to set-up and play with dominos.
I think that’s what the filmmakers and writers of the movie
were able to capture well: that spirit of our youth.
The major flaw in Robots, besides some flat, bland characters,
is the rather lame pop-culture jokes and references which are about
as subtle as a sledgehammer to the groin. The feeling is similar
to when movies play Britney Spears music or make
other inter-textual references, or when Fender starts acting like
William Wallace from Mel Gibson’s
Braveheart. There really is no context to the story, and
in the end such references are simply obtrusive and well…
gross. In parts like this, the narrative starts taking a low-road.
What’s so wrong and bad about the high road?
All in all, Robots is a good, somewhat inspired feature
marred by a typical formula for animated features. The film provides
a good commentary about the techno-junkie culture we live in and
how we always have to get the next bigger and better thing that
comes along while not appreciating or using the older stuff we have.
The movie depicts an image-centered culture perpetrated by the media
and society. However, that theme does come off as kind of hollow
with Halle Berry playing one of the leads.
—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris