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Robots
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha (directors)
Genre:   Animated Sci-Fi Comedy
Released:   March 11, 2005
Review Date:   March 15, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

"Think! Use that fancy brain I stole for you!" — Madame Gasket.

Pixar, watch your back.

The only thing keeping Chris Wedge and Blue Sky Studios from taking the crown of CGI filmmaking away from Pixar is that Blue Sky doesn’t put out their flicks as fast, and Pixar is a little better at putting some real soul into their films.

Wedge's last film, Ice Age, was a fun romp with an unlikely group of animals becoming friends as they try to return a human baby.

In Blue Sky’s new flick, Robots, we have the story of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan "Moulin Rouge!" McGregor), a young robot who dreams of being an inventor, just like his idol Bigweld (Mel "Spaceballs" Brooks). There are only a few things in his way. For instance, his family is a bit poor, being that dad’s a dishwasher. Literally.

As he grows up, all of Rodney’s "big boy" parts are usually hand-me-downs from other robots in the family ("He has your mother’s eyes, and my dad’s nose. I told you we were wise to save them," quips dad). Not having a lot of cash, Rodney has to make his inventions out of whatever parts he can scrounge. He ends up creating a cute little flying whirly-thing out of wire, spoons, and a coffee pot. With this widget, and his father’s (Stanley "The Core" Tucci) blessing, Rodney takes off for Robot City to earn his fortune.

In Robot City Rodney befriends Fender (Robin "Popeye" Williams), Crank (Drew Carrey), Piper (Amanda Bynes), and others all take him in as family. They are part of a class of older robots, called Outmodes. Outmodes are poor, shabby robots who can't afford to upgrade their parts. When they break, they have to get by with spare parts.

Rodney then heads off to Bigweld Industries to show off his invention, Wonderbot. Once there, he finds his second obstacle. Bigweld has vanished, and the company is now headed up by sleek, evil Ratchet (Greg "Godsend" Kinnear). While Bigweld was always open to new ideas and cared for the Outmodes, Ratchet has other plans. His new strategy for the company is that it will no longer offer spare parts to the Outmodes, only stylish upgrades. See, spare parts are cheap, but whole new chassis aren’t. Rodney is tossed out on his ear.

Behind this "no spare parts" thing is Ratchet’s real plot, which is to eliminate the Outmodes and make a fortune selling the reforged robots company as new parts. Rodney starts using his inventive skills to repair the Outmodes, which pits him against Ratchet and his mother as he tries to find the missing Bigweld, stop Ratchet and save the day.

The plot is tight, but a bit simple. It works for both kids and adults. It has a few mandatory life lessons ("you can shine no matter what you’re made of"), but the humor quotient is very high, and the writers aren’t afraid to have some of the gags be a bit mean. There are lots of clever references to other robot movies, my favorite being one robot singing "A Bicycle Built for Two" as Rodney fixes his mind. If you don’t get the gag, shame on you.

The CGI is, of course, amazing, and the robots all look spectacular. There are hundreds of 'bots, all inventive and cool. They are a mix of modern-day and 1940's Popular Science gee-whiz futuristic style. The design of the robots, in their eclectic inventiveness, matches the varied monster designs in Monsters Inc. (And yes, you can hear each one screaming to be bought as a toy.) There's kinetic movement all through the movie — whirling gears, coiling springs, spinning wheels, rolling balls — leading to an amazing chase scene at the end.

The voice cast does a very good job. Kinnear continues to scuff up his wholesome image with a great turn as the neurotic, villainous Ratchet. Williams is his usual manic self, rapid-firing jokes in most of his scenes, and McGregor infuses Rodney with a real earnestness.

On the down side, some of the humor is a bit broad. The story could have been a little deeper, and they take a few shortcuts, but these are minor quibbles. While it’s not quite in the same league as The Incredibles or Shrek 2, Robots is visually wonderful, exciting and inventive, with fun characters. It will stand up to repeat viewings.


 
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