Friday, April 15, 2005

Robots

Robots
Directed by Chris Wedge
2005, rated PG
4 stars

There seems to be a growing trend in children’s animated films of personification. For some reason it is just more interesting to see other creatures acting human than it is to see actual humans acting human. First it was toys (Toy Story 1&2), then insects (Antz, A Bug’s Life), monsters and fairy tale creatures (Monsters Inc., Shrek 1&2), and then fish (Finding Nemo, A Shark’s Tale). All of these films are heartwarming and endearing, and all follow the encouraging storyline of the little guy making it big through hard work and honesty. Now the personification has moved to robots in Chris Wedge’s aptly named film, Robots.

Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is a young robot from a small town making his way to the city with his big dreams and ideas. Rodney has been lured to the big apple—creatively named Robot City—by the enticing promises of opportunity offered by Bigweld (Mel Brooks) and his corporation. Rodney has grown up watching Bigweld’s television show, which promises open opportunity to any aspiring inventor who arrives at the corporation’s doorstep. Upon arrival, however, Rodney discovers that the business has been taken over by the fiscally focused, diabolically scheming Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), and that the door is now quite literally closed to any new ideas. With complete control of the corporation, Ratchet, along with his frighteningly psychotic mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent), has formed a plot to outdate all old and underfinanced robots and to turn these outdated models into scrap metal. Rodney, however, will not stand for it, and with a little help from a strange assortment of friends—who include the voice talents of Robin Williams, Halle Berry, and Drew Carey—sets out to restore the rightful owner and integrity to the corporation he so admires.

The voice cast for Robots is absolutely astonishing in its star-studded brilliance. In addition to the names listed above, other well-known actors make their way into the film as minor roles. Paul Giamatti serves as the voice for the rude little Tim the Gate Guard; Jay Leno has a few lines as a fire hydrant; and James Earl Jones parodies himself as the recorded message for a pay phone. These famous actors do more than add showy names to the cast listings, however. Their voices and intonations are what bring these animated steel beings to life.

Of course, the special effects animation lends a hand as well. With every film, computer-generated animation becomes more life-like and fun to watch. After all, it doesn’t matter if the characters aren’t human, the more real they look, the more the audience can identify with them. And it’s always entertaining to watch human emotions and quirks translated and reflected in the facial expressions and actions of other forms. Robots makes excellent use of this technique, and it translates well, as the robots are of humanoid form, but just different enough to make the transition amusing and available for puns and jokes.

The animation for Robot City is also amazing in its scope and detail. The intricacies of the robot city life not only reflect that of humans, but add to it as well. The cross town journey, for example, more resembles a wild roller coaster bigger than anything at Six Flags more than anything else—although this may be an accurate reflection of how it feels to try to get from one side of a city to another.

Although similar to its predecessors in both plot and style, Robots incorporates much more humor and movement into its plot and storytelling. Constant allusions to current events and other movies keeps the older audience entertained, while the typical puns and gag jokes amuse all age groups. And, of course, the overall moral is a classic, with the hero fighting the good fight for the rights of the underdog. Overall, Robots is entertaining and enjoyable—though Robin Williams occasionally seems to have a few screws loose himself.

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