Film — Robots (PG)
Robots (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Robin Williams itches like scratchy wool in the underwhelming we’re-all-special-themed animated movie Robots, brought to you by the fine people at the Blue Sky Studios of Ice Age fame.

Here’s the thing: Robots looks clever. It’s all oooo-pretty visuals and cutesy sight gags that mix the still-neat-o effects of three-dimensional computer animation with the concept of a world made for and by robots. It’s a metallic city filled with wind-up birds and animatronic fire hydrants where each and every bolt has depth and heft and seems to take up actual space in a real universe. And, you know, as far as that goes, it’s pretty cool. But movies like Shrek and The Incredibles did not become the bee’s knees by being essentially a neat parlor trick.

Robots certainly tries to rank with the computer-animated best. It brings out the vocal talents such as Robin Williams, Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Amanda Bynes, Greg Kinnear and Mel Brooks to add some life to the precision of the animation. But ultimately, the movie feels like what it is — flat with only the approximation of something multi-dimensional.

Take our white-bread hero, for example. Rodney (McGregor) is as American and apple pie as a kid from the Iowa cornfields. He leaves the small town for the metropolis of Robot City in hopes of fulfilling his dreams to be as important an inventor as the great Mr. Bigweld (Brooks). But, naturally, the big city isn’t as instantly welcoming as he hopes. He’s tossed out of Bigweld’s company by its new overlord, Ratchet (Kinnear), a slick profit-minded corporate man. Left on his own, Rodney hooks up with a motley gang of scavengers led by Fender (Williams) and his kid sister Piper (Bynes). Soon, he finds his place in the big city as fix-it man. Ratchet has decided to dump Bigweld’s replacement parts line in favor of expensive new upgrades that will make all robots shiny chrome clones of each other. Those who can’t afford the fins-on-Caddy-like upgrades will find themselves swept up into an aggressive search for scrap metal. Rodney, on the other hand, still believes in the principle of fixing robots with replacement parts that allow every tin-man to be an individual. He starts a patch and fix-it business that helps the underclass avoid the junk heap. Naturally, Ratchet isn’t so happy about this bit of entrepreneurship. Will Rodney, with the help of Fender, corporate agnostic Cappy (Berry) and the mysteriously vanished Bigweld (Brooks) be able to stop Ratchet before he causes havoc in the robot population?

Huh, ethnic cleansing played out by robots, how … disturbing, actually. Did I mention that Ratchet’s dastardly plans originate from his scrap-metal-producing mother, who looks a little something like a vampire-furnace? So, yes, add a layer of Oedipus conflict to megalomaniacal corporate dictatorship — you know, for kids! Robots isn’t so much a cartoon tale of how it’s good to be unique as it is a study of assorted dysfunctions. Take away the Robin Williams buffoonery and this cartoon is really quite creepy.

Not that Williams exactly saves the movie. He distracts from it more than anything. Some of his, you know, scatting is entertaining, some of it is filler but none of it really does more than pull your attention away from the semi-disturbing central tale.

Robots reminds me quite a bit of Shark Tale — a movie that probably sounded better in the pitch meeting than it ended up on screen.

- Amy Diaz

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