by Eric Jeter
|| *** (out of 5 stars)
Ewan McGregor as RODNEY COPPERBOTTOM
Robin Williams as FENDER
Halle Berry as CAPPY
Greg Kinnear as RATCHET
Stanley Tucci as HERB COPPERBOTTOM
Dianne Wiest as MRS. COPPERBOTTOM
Amanda Bynes as PIPER
Opens March 11, 2005
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
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‘Robots’ Wired For Kids
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The days of the cartoon feature are almost certainly numbered. For every entertaining Lilo and Stitch or Emperor’s New Groove, there are two or three poor performing busts, such as Treasure Planet and Home on the Range. Slowly but surely cartoon animation is becoming an antiquated format, destined to be surpassed by its artistic rival, CGI technology. With companies like Pixar and DreamWorks churning out computer-generated blockbusters like The Incredibles and Shrek 2, as well as a number of sure-hit titles on the horizon, CGI is fast becoming the animation world’s most dominant art form. Big Sky Studios, the creators of the well-received Ice Age, now brings us the next phase in the evolution of CGI, Robots, a film that may be a little too lackluster for adults but does hold enough adolescent laughs to keep kids interested.
Robots sets up as a rambunctious boy-meets-world adventure centered around little Rodney Copperbottom, a gifted young bot who shows great promise as an inventor. Finally coming of age, he follows his starry-eyed dreams to the wondrous Robot City, where he hopes to hone his skills at the monolithic corporation, Bigweld Industries. His dreams are dashed when he finds Bigweld is being run by Ratchet, a corporate tyrant, and his scheming mother, Madame Gasket.
The Robots realm, and all the contraptions that comprise it, are rendered with characteristics that are truly fascinating. Every bot is fashioned with a clever combination of colorful pieces and parts that help accentuate their varied personalities. Their styles range from the nostalgic tin can look of 1950’s robotica to sleek, ultra-modern beauties made from what looks to be some kind of specialized alloy. The world they live in is a gorgeously iron-plated Oz, coolized with giant gyroscopic transports, massive electromagnetic devices, and the infernal “chop shop”, a steel mill broiling with the heat of liquefied metal.
Except for a few rapid-fire snipes by Robin Williams comedy relief character Fender, the film’s humor is mostly of the kid-pleasing variety. There are plenty of pants falling down (and butts falling off) sight gags, slapstick hijinks, and, of course, the next evolutionary stage of that family comedy favorite, the fart joke.
Ala Shrek 2, Robots best cracks come at the expense of pop culture. The film’s distinct musical tone reworks everything from nostalgic Bing Crosby tunes to hip-wiggling Britney Spears tracks. Some old school Barry White also creeps in and even Chingy’s rap blast, “Right Thurr”, adds some genuine hilarity to the non-stop robot revelry.
However, the film’s greatest asset is also its greatest curse. Most of its gags are hit or miss, and are often meddlesome, interrupting the film’s flow and thinning out the storyline until it only seems like a placeholder for the next silly skit. Its laundry list of voice acting talents, which include the likes of Halle Berry, Ewan McGregor, and Drew Carey give such so-so performances that they almost go unnoticed. And the film’s pinball finale is so typical you could almost mouth the moral of the story along with the characters.
What Robots looks like more than anything is Blue Sky Studious’ attempt to reinvent the Pixar classic Monsters Inc. - only with the steel androids replacing closet-lurking beasts. But Robots isn’t half as clever, cute, or well-constructed. It will, however, appeal to its tike-sized target audience, and gives parents, if nothing else, a good family-oriented option on the weekend.