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Robots
2005 - PG - 91 Mins.
Director: Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
Producer: Jerry Davis and John C. Donkin
Written By: Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks and Halle Berry
Review by: Bill King
Official Site: www.robotsmovie.com/
   

That haircut went out of style a few nanoseconds ago.
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 or talent.

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 identities.

As is always the case with a movie like this, we meet a collection of colorful 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 comic relief.

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.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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