Robots Movie Review

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With its expensive but largely characterless voice castand an off-the-shelf follow-your-dreams plot retooled for a world populatedby wacky sentient machines, the computer-animated "Robots" islucky to have spectacular production design and one or two curious mechanicalstars to hold the interest of anyone over age 10.

Created by Blue Sky Studios and director Chris Wedge --the gang behind 2002's "IceAge" -- the story concerns young robotRodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a small-town dreamer madefrom well-worn, hand-me-down parts maintained by his dishwasher dad. He'sa hopeful, wide-eyed inventor who travels to the mega-opolis Robot Cityhoping to sell some of his scrap-metal gadgets to Bigweld Industries, apparentlythe monopoly supplier of all things robotic in this world.

The company was once run by the altruistic and welcomingMr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), who for no adequately explored reason has withdrawnfrom the company he loved and let it be taken over by a greedy, brushed-steelcorporate suit named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). This villain has decided todiscontinue all replacement parts Bigweld has always made for the robotpopulation -- all part of a sinister plan to scrap and melt down any "outmodes"who can't afford full-body upgrades.

Of course, Rodney and a goofball group of misfits he'sbefriended rise to the occasion right on cue, find Bigweld and restorehis joie de vivre, and decide take on this evil empire.

Class warfare themes and allusions to present-day politicsaside, "Robots" doesn't offer much narrative creativity, butit's never at a loss for a good robot pun ("making a baby" and"got your nose" take on whole new meanings), and visually it'snothing short of fantastic. The film's production designer is William Joyce,creator of the robot kiddie cartoons and books "Rolie Polie Olie,"who conceives a frenzied cogs-and-sprockets world chock full of wind-upcars and Rube Goldberg devices.

The characters are equally creative -- at least in theway they look. Rodney's slightly battered chassis, spring-coil torso, mismatchedarms, hints of rust and a crooked head-fin flourish (which attaches tohis bolt of a nose) provide far more personality than McGregor's voice.Why hire a Scotsman to voice a cartoon character, then make him use a flattened,lackluster American accent?

Rodney's scam-artist mentor named Fender fares a littlebetter, given the amusing appearance of a worn-out water-well pump crossedwith a cheap car jack, and the wacky, unmistakable voice of Robin Williams.With Brooks' voice and a design like a giant ball bearing with a head,Bigweld is memorable too. But a lot of money was wasted hiring name actorswith nondescript voices (Greg Kinnear, Halle Berry, Amanda Bynes, StanleyTucci, Drew Carey) to fill out the cast.

Despite its routine, connect-the-dots plot and unengagingvocal performances, the movie's sense of humor keeps it running like awell-oiled machine. If nothing else, the comical nods to dozens of otherfilms ("Star Wars," "Braveheart," "Desperado,"Rollerball,""Scarface," "2001," "Bottle Rocket" and "Singingin the Rain" among others) are enough to keep adults amused for 91minutes.

It's just a shame Wedge and his screenwriters couldn'tbe bothered with concocting a story as unique as the world in which theirpicture takes place

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Robots Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG, Friday, March 11, 2005


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