Before entering the sneak preview screening of Robots—the newest computer-graphic (CG) animated film by Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age) and distributed through Fox—I had considered what life with a child might look like one day: sacrificing Y Tu Mamá También for Daddy Day Care and midnight movies for early Saturday morning showings, risking my Italian leather mules to the indeterminate gummy red substances that seem to accompany children. After seeing the film, I was only more thankful for the invention of contraception.
I had high expectations for Robots, after thoroughly enjoying the CGI-created Ice Age, Dreamworks’s Shrek franchise, and Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. But as the first twenty minutes of Robots mechanically rolled by, all I could think was why any filmmaker would have created this monstrosity of a family-fare flick, torturous to those over the age of eight, and just plan boring to the under-four-foot crowd.
In previous CGI films, all-star casts, cutting-edge technology, and Hollywood mockery combined to create a cinematic experience literally everyone in the family could enjoy. Even the most cynical moviegoer can legitimately feel warm and gooey inside when watching Buzz Lightyear and Woody reunite in the well-told Toy Story. Robots, unfortunately, malfunctions on every level.
The film is a tale of a world populated by robots, in which a young bot named Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is dissatisfied by small-town life with his poor parents (Dianne West and Stanley Tucci). He travels to the prototypical big city to meet the heroic inventor Bigweld (Mel Brooks) but is overwhelmed by the bustle of city life and corporate greed. Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) and his conniving, demonic mother (Jim Broadbent) have taken over Bigweld’s plant and, instead of serving the robot public, look to suck every penny out of them with expensive upgrades.
Along the way, Rodney befriends a ragtag team of down-on-their-luck robots, voiced by Robin Williams, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, Paul Giamatti, and Jennifer Coolidge (better known as “Stifler’s mom”). The innovative Rodney becomes a hero to the downtrodden, rusty robots and, with the help of love interest Cappy (Halle Berry), takes on the bad guys and saves the day. The story’s naive morality might cause viewers to stand and cheer at the end, if only the film were even remotely bearable to watch.
On its chrome surface, the movie seems to have all the right parts: a top-dollar cast, writing crew, and animation budget. But it regrettably squanders all of it. Its few attempts at trite comedy give a well-assembled cast no direction or boost of energy. The fact that the writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (responsible for A League of Their Own and Parenthood) couldn’t give good material to Williams and Brooks doesn’t bode well.
Animators gave themselves a challenge when dreaming up a film starring robots and machinery. Metal lacks the plasticity that characterizes truly innovative CGI animation (think of the inflatable frog in Shrek). Instead, the animated humor relies on dismemberment as outmoded robots fall apart, giving the entire cartoon an air of morbidity.
Most cartoons feature scenery that is a fantastical version of the real world, with extremely bright colors and curvy shapes. Instead, Blue Sky Studios has relied on cooler, deeper colors to contrast their work from Disney’s “rose-colored glasses” animation. Ice Age succeeded in this degree, but its landscapes were vast expanses of neutrally-colored arctic; Robots’ futuristic mechanical world is visually distracting to the point of nausea.
The climactic fight scene at the end of the film pointlessly rips off visuals from Star Wars (light saber battle on a catwalk), The Lord of the Rings (bows and arrows launched at giants), The Matrix (borg arms descending on an innocent civilization), and Braveheart (kilts and all). The scene borrows ideas without any of the necessary wit or engaging musical accompaniment to telegraph the satire of the scene.
In fact, the film even takes a stab at Orwellian allegory to appeal to mature viewers, presenting scrap metal plants resembling hell, eugenic overtones of destroying the “rusty” robots, and depictions of corporate greed. However, there’s nothing morally provocative or intellectual about the film; it’s just uninteresting to adults and frightening to children. And once one of those emotionally unstable midgets start crying, they all do...
For the college set: don’t even bother renting the film; treasure your childless young-adult years while you can. It’s only a matter of time before The Deer Hunter gets replaced by Bambi in your DVD player.
—Staff writer Kristina M. Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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