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ROBOTS
U.S. Release Date: March 11, 2005
Distributor: Fox
Director: Carlos Saldanha (co-director), Chris Wedge
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire
Producer: John C. Donkin, Christopher Meledandri (executive)
Composer: John Powell
Cast: Ewan McGregor (Voice), Halle Berry (Voice), Greg Kinnear (Voice), Amanda Bynes (Voice), Robin Williams (Voice), Jim Broadbent (Voice), Stanley Tucci (Voice), Jennifer Coolidge (Voice), Paul Giamatti
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (some brief language and suggestive humor)

Robots Lack Realism
by Scott Holleran

Seeing Twentieth Century Fox's Robots on an IMAX screen was an inviting proposition. From Pixar's clever adventure, Toy Story, to Fox's charming Ice Age, animated features in general, and computer-generated animation in particular, are often the only reason to get excited about movies.

Depicting exotic locations with colorful, story-driven action packed with all-star casts, the computer-animated features are also as close to larger than life as Hollywood gets. Here lies the problem for these snazzy computer generated movies, which are based upon a stylized recreation of reality—they must contain some measure of realism. But the scripts rarely rise to the quality of the animation, and most are more style than substance. Robots is another case in point.

Director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) presents the robotic universe as an end in itself, which puts Robots in the realm of fantasy. In this retro vision of the future, with smooth curves and a whizzing metropolis, there are worker robots and there are corporate robots, but the purpose of these robots, and the rules that govern them, is unclear.

A worker couple (voices by Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest) named Copperbottom assembles a son from a kit, adding spare parts as he ages (by the time he's an adult, his voice is Ewan MacGregor's). Why they mimic the human concept of "son" doesn't make sense, but they do, and it undercuts their credibility as robots. Dishwasher dad spends time with his invention-interested son watching a television program hosted by a great businessman (longtime comedian and producer Mel Brooks), a fat cat version of Walt Disney. When one of the kid's contraptions gets his dad in trouble, the Copperbottom kid takes off to Robot City to show his invention to the businessman and make it big.

Robin Williams, in his first voice for animation since the hyperactive Aladdin, takes over from there. As an old robot that keeps falling apart and meeting up with the idealistic Copperbottom, he dominates Robots with the one-liners that have defined—and constricted—the genre. Popular culture joke after joke brings a modern sensibility to what is already a tenuous fantasy—robots with human qualities aren't as endearing as humanized animals—and the plot stalls whenever frantic Mr. Williams is in the picture.

Once inside the city, Copperbottom quickly learns that the big businessman—whose credo embraces the value of each robot—has disappeared, with the Disney-ish empire run by Greg Kinnear's corporate tycoon. An assembly line of voices is too long to mention—anything with Jay Leno as a fire hydrant could have been cut—and few have time to make an impression, though Jim Broadbent has fun as the voice of Kinnear's domineering mother machine.

Visually, bells and whistles ring, toot and shine and, with a story by committee, it is dizzying (undoubtedly more so in IMAX) and rather dull. Wild rides spring from nowhere for no reason. Art Deco, Fifties auto design and rusty parts are fine in and of themselves but the animated artistry without a cohesive plot is like a nut without a bolt. The story has merit, though it is inconsistent.

As a father-son tale, Robots is pleasant enough. Several undeveloped threads—making one's destiny, creating for the sake of creating, having a positive, optimistic outlook—are good ideas. But they are contradicted by mixed messages; Copperbottom's motives are altruistic and making money is regarded as evil—which neutralizes his dream of becoming a capitalist tool—and the robotic hierarchy is never explained. Not without charm, and better than others in this burgeoning field, Robots gets lost in the grind of too many parts, too many voices and not enough thematic development.


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