Produced by the animation studio that cranked out Ice Age, Robots follows the adventures of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), a young robot who, with the encouragement of his parents, journeys to the metropolis of Robot City to fulfill his lifelong dream: to become a great inventor and work for Bigweld Industries, the premier manufacturer of robotic parts. Unfortunately, his plans hit a snag when he discovers that control of the corporation has been seized by a corrupt mogul (Greg Kinnear) who wants to force robots into buying expensive upgrades and send those who can't afford them to the scrap heap. Dismayed but not defeated, Rodney resists the evil empire, and is joined in his cause by a group of patchworked bots, including the manic Fender (Robin Williams).
When I first heard about the idea of a computer animated film featuring robots, I figured it was a cop out to make the story fit the technology. Rendering robots in such a manner seemed to carry on the tradition of computer animating simplistic, non-human subjects--toys, cars, bugs, and now robots. But even with this chip on my shoulder, I have to admit, the animation looks slick. With all the lighting effects, one really gets a sense of the metallic depth and weight of the characters and their lively (and often ingenious) environment. This particular brand of hi-tech cartoonery, which has so far been dominated by Pixar, continues to make impressive strides forward, and I'm sure subsequent entries in the field will be even more visually dazzling. But as of the writing of this review, Robots is as much eye candy as any of its contemporaries.
The story isn't bad either, especially for younger viewers. If I were given to cheesy, sentimental cliches, I would say, "this film has a lot of heart." Rodney's journey to become a successful inventor in the big city delivers an optimistic message of working hard to live out your dreams and being the most that you can be. I think everyone will agree it's a more constructive moral for kids than "life sucks, and then you die." I tried to pitch that to the studio, but alas, they would have none of it.
Like the most successful animated films, Robots also tries to entertain the adults. To that end, Robin Williams is unleashed into a recording booth to spew out a giant load of standup. Those who are familiar with his typical routine should know exactly what to expect: the comic rattles off joke after joke, voice after voice. Some of it works, some of it doesn't. Personally, I felt that about three out of every four of his bits fell flat. But with his sheer volume of delivery, hitting even 25% gives the illusion of success, and I was amused enough by his antics. It's not as good as his voice performance as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin (a character that was perfect for his frenzied, impressions-heavy style), but neither is it as irritating as most of his talk show appearances where he strays off subject and will...not...shut...up!
Most of the supporting cast are great in their respective roles: Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest as Rodney's parents; Mel Brooks as an eccentric, legendary inventor; Greg Kinnear as a villainous mama's boy; Drew Carey as a deadpan sidekick with problems of his own; and Amanda Bynes as Fender's scrappy little sister, whose unabashed girliness bubbles with personality. The only real disappointment is Halle Berry, who, I guess, is supposed to be Rodney's love interest. Her character is half-heartedly thrown into the mix as a token element, and she brings zero energy to the role. Honestly, would anyone really notice if she had been replaced or omitted? I'm sure it would have saved the production company a little coin.
The film has a playful sense of humor, and pop culture spoofs are scattered throughout. Fender's Britney Spears dance routine was a real crowd pleaser, and the Darth Vader line was a funny reference to Ewan McGregor's role as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Additionally, adults will notice several references to childhood toys of yesteryear.
Robots has something to offer moviegoers of all ages. And while it may be a little formulaic, it's at least a fun, entertaining formula that many people enjoy.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)