Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Halle Berry
115 Minutes, Directed by Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
The world of CGI animation is opening up the doors to all sorts of visual
artists who can't wait to impress us with the images they can conjure up, but
it's also opening up the doors to all these screenwriters who want to impress us
with how smart they are. Actually, "smart" is the wrong word. The writers of
Robots, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, are smart guys, but their script reveals
that they've seen a lot of movies, so they're really just trying to impress us
with their knowledge of movies.
In Robots, I spotted
references to Brian De Palma's Scarface (a variation of "Say hello to my
little friend!"), Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
("Daisy, Daisy…"), The Wizard of Oz and probably a few more that I can't
remember. Little in-jokes and irrelevant pranks off to the side fill the entire
frame from beginning to end. The "camera" pans to some unimportant development
or inconsequential character just for the sake of a cheap laugh, such as a
homeless robot begging on the street with a sign that says "I've been screwed."
Robots takes place in a
world populated by, well, robots. Their cities look like they came right out of
The Jetsons or Futurama. The movie is
going for the same combination of visual splendor and humorous storytelling
that gave Pixar its reputation for delivering quality animated entertainment.
There are dazzling sights of a vast city, which is populated by a large variety
of robotic characters, each with a nifty function that identifies its occupation
"Compared to how well the Pixar folks did with the same resources,
Robots is a film that falls short of expectations . . ."
Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan
McGregor) is a young inventor who is off to the big city to put his skills to
use. He wants to work for the reclusive Bigweld (Mel Brooks), the president of a
corporation that produces spare parts for robots. However, Rodney discovers that
the conniving Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) has taken over and wants to introduce
upgrades into the marketplace. This would have the detrimental effect of forcing
robots to buy entirely new bodies, heads, etc. and therefore lose their original
As is always the case with a
movie like this, we meet a collection of colourful characters with varying
personalities and abilities. Like the toys of Toy Story or the monsters
of Monsters, Inc., the robots here range from mild-mannered to hyper.
It's no surprise that Robin Williams' robot falls on the hyper side of the
scale. He voices Fender, a fast-talking free spirit who serves as the loudmouth
Once Rodney gets his friends
together, he challenges Ratchet's authority and all he has to back him up are
these odd robots that somehow still always have time to utter a wisecrack in the
middle of a fight.
This is, unfortunately, a bad
habit that the film picks up early and doesn't shake off. The story makes abrupt
stops along the way to play out a gag involving the strange nature of robots.
With the freedom of animation and the endless possibilities of CGI technology at
their disposal, the animators have inserted countless visual gags to poke fun at
their creations. Whether it's a robot urinating oil, or covering up its genitals
(or whatever passes for them), nothing seems too excessive for inclusion. These
scenes draw attention to themselves rather than supporting the narrative.
The worlds of Toy Story,
A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and
The Incredibles are filled with fantastic visuals
and witty in-jokes, but in those films it all seemed to belong. The Pixar movies
included comedy in the material, but they didn't stop to do a double take. The
story always moved forward, and any potentially humorous developments had to
keep up with the plot. The makers of Robots crammed in so many jokes that
the movie stalls several times per minute just so we can see them all. The
writers and animators are so in love with their ideas they allowed them to
impede the film's momentum.
The premise is interesting, but
it plays out with too many distractions. Kids won't care about how the animators
mismanaged the balance between the plot and humor, because all they really want
to see is a funny animated movie. Compared to how well the Pixar folks did with
the same resources, Robots is a film that falls short of expectations.
- Bill King
A cautionary parable about
corporate malfeasance brought to us by one of the more maleficent corporations
out there (hey, these guys did give us Fox News you know!). Still, I liked it
better than SharkTale, maybe because it has a less annoying soundtrack —
who knows? It has some
inventive moments (the futuristic cityscapes are particularly well-done), but it
still isn't as good or funny as it could have been. Still, it could have been
worse too and besides, my little three-year-old daughter likes it.