Robots (2005) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for some crude humor
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast (voices): Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Stanley Tucci, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jennifer Coolidge, Halle Berry, Dianne Wiest, Paul Giamatti, Natasha Lyonne, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, Harland Williams, Al Roker, Brian McFadden, Jay Leno, James Earl Jones, Dan Hedaya, Terry Bradshaw
Director: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Screenplay: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Review published March 17, 2005
Robots feels like an amalgam of every 3D animated feature I’ve seen in the past eight years, and in particular, one of the first to ever come out, Antz. This one strictly adheres to Antz’ formula, where we have a sympathetic hero trying to do what’s right, some power hungry bad guys that are trying to change the order of things for their own devices, a slew of robot-related puns and quips, non-stop pop culture references, and eccentric characters voiced by famous actors. Needless to say, if you like Antz, you’ll probably like Robotz -- er, I mean Robots.
I’m not really sure about the context behind this world of robots, and unless I was completely zoning out, there is little to no explanation as to why and how such a world exists. I assume the folks at Fox, who are entering the 3D feature arena for the first time, either never came up with a reason, or quickly jettisoned all explanations, as they might get in the way of what they really want to do -- craft an eye-popping adventure for all ages.
The main protagonist is Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor, Big Fish), who comes from a humble small town of blue-collar robots. As he enters “adulthood”, Rodney decides to head out on his own into the big town of Robot City, where he plans on getting a job working for his idol, the great robot inventor known as Bigweld (Mel Brooks, Spaceballs). It is difficult to adjust to his new setting, as he finds a sort of class warfare between the newer robots and those seen as older models, and it doesn’t help much that the factory Rodney works in is run by Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear, Stuck on You), who has halted the selling of replacement parts so that outmoded robots will be weeded out for upgraded models. Rodney knows that Bigweld would have never stood for such an underhanded practice, so he sets about finding him in order to try to set things right.
Too much déjà vu mars this otherwise gloriously rendered animated feature, although those too young to remember all of the other similar vehicles will probably be totally fixated by the nonstop action, humor, and cutesy characters galore. More savvy filmgoers will likely find the storyline to be tedious, especially since the plot is ignored about ¾ of the time so that the makers could concentrate on elaborately designed action pieces, mostly depicting how the robots shuttle around the city.
Perhaps with a little more background as to the robot world, Robots might prove easier to connect to for us as viewers. Since there are no humans in the robot world, the robot desire to do things the way humans would seem very farfetched, as they work, eat, sleep, and even perform bathroom functions (including a wholly misguided flatulence sequence that seems desperate and completely out of place). What is their field of reference for such activities?
I’m giving Robots a minor recommendation for touching all of the bases, albeit at the most scant of levels. Kids should enjoy it, while many adults may find the visual aspects and constant pop culture references just enough to keep them entertained throughout. Still, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed, especially after so many of the wonderful 3D animated features produced by Pixar and Dreamworks. While Toy Story and Finding Nemo will last the test of time, a film like Robots will likely be one of the first of these features to be considered “outmoded” by future generations. Like most aging appliances you might find around your own house, Robots might still get the job done, but by current standards, it's a bit of a clunker.
©2005 Vince Leo