Sunday, March 13, 2005

film: Robots

Robots 3/5

Robots is the latest animated feature film aimed at a broad audience. It ends up being a worthwhile watch, but falls short of being incredible. Pun intended.

Our hero is Rodney (voiced by Ewen McGregor), a fresh high school graduate who gets into trouble while helping Dad at his restaurant job as a dishwasher. Rodney invents Wonderbot, a flying, gee-whiz, cute-as-Scrat robot who can is a master acrobat with unbelievable dexterity. He is a sign of Rodney’s genius, but he also quickly crashes when facing an the pressure of an audience. Rodney, inspired by Mr. Big Weld, the world’s most famous robot and a keen industrialist who cares for the little guy, leaves his small town to meet Big Weld and find his fortune as an inventor.

Little does Rodney know, however, the Mr. Big Weld was convinced to retire, in order for his company’s board to focus on selling upgrades, rather than spare parts. With production of spare parts ceased, robots everywhere begin to have their parts wear out and fall susceptible to the recycling plant, run by the demon-like Madame Gasket, where old robots and their parts are melted down.

Not surprisingly, the animation if a cacophony of visual treats. Witness the very clever way Rodney and Fender (manically voiced by Robin Williams) travel to the big city. They fly in a protective cage which gets flung and carefully lands only to be mechanically spirited away again and again until arriving within walking distance of Mr. Big Weld’s landmark office complex. Everywhere you look, you see gleaming stainless steel and polished metal contrasted with the rusted, worn out appearance of the common robot seeking spare parts. The domino scene in Mr. Big Weld’s home is priceless animation.

There are many, many cultural references, too many for you to catch them all in one viewing. Actors show up in the form of voices from folks like Mel Brooks, Halle Berry, Terry Bradshaw, Drew Carey, Paul Giamatti, Dan Hedaya, James Earl Jones, and Jay Leno. Madame Gasket reminded me of the queen alien from the Alien series. Ratchet, the bad guy, has the same jaw lines as Megabyte, the main bad guy from the Reboot TV series. Some of the guest voices didn’t stand out for me, though. In the end, they could have saved money by using lesser-known actors. Ewen McGregor once again makes good without his normal English accent, but you wonder if he was given the role to have a "star" doing the voice. The robots are quite expressive and human-like with indivdual personalities and traits, but most of them are also boring.

This film is very funny and you need to see it a second time to catch all the jokes. I will welcome a second viewing but its poor plot also left me not wanting to see a sequel or to rave about it like I did after seeing the far superior The Incredibles. There was a short preview of Ice Age II, with Scrat once again unleashing all hell as he scales a glacier to gather an acorn. Can’t wait to see that film.

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