Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Paul Giamatti
Director: Chris Wedge
Congratulations are in order for 20th Century Fox and their CGI animation adjunct Blue Sky Studios for joining the fight between Pixar and DreamWorks in the ongoing battle for animation supremacy. Despite the minimal success enjoyed from their first film “Ice Age” though (which was released amidst a whirlwind of much better competition), Blue Sky’s latest venture is only slightly better, especially considering when it's the following act of Pixar’s award-winning “The Incredibles.” Director Chris Wedge’s “Robots” is a visually stunning display of the technological advances in animation over the past year, but the film depends too much on its all-star cast of voice talent. There's little room in the clunky script for "Robots" to thrive at the same level of its competitors.
The story follows the guidelines for any basic coming-of-age tale, with the main hero, Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), leaving his small hometown for the metropolis Robot City with dreams of becoming a famous inventor much like his childhood idol, Bigweld (Mel Brooks), owner of the largest robot parts company and the robot world’s biggest star. Bigweld is a fun-loving ruler whom everybody appreciates for his tolerance of diversity and his helping hand to the blue-collar family, but when Rodney arrives in Robot City, he discovers that Bigweld Industries is now in the hands of Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a sleek and shiny robot who is following his evil mother’s orders to destroy all of the outdated robots who depend on spare parts to live. Instead, the only repair options made available are the new, expensive upgrades that Ratchet dons himself, and unless Rodney and his band of misfit robot friends can stop their diabolical plans, they’ll be on their way to the scrap yard.
”Robots” is missing a few parts itself, namely wit and originality. This story of conformity has been translated hundreds of times into different languages, genres and mediums, but I guess Hollywood likes to stick with what works, and it does, but only for so long. These other animation companies just don’t compare to the excellence of Pixar, and oddly enough, it’s not the animation that drags “Robots” down, but rather the writing. There are only a few laughs along the way for adults to enjoy and the writer’s references to pop culture hot topics rarely induce any comedic moments. Among one of the worst additions to the story is the character of Fender (played by Robin Williams), whom I guess is supposed to be the comic relief for the film. Williams only offers a rusty version of his brilliant Genie from Disney’s “Aladdin” and it stinks of banality as much as the has-been script.
Not everything is lost with “Robots” though, whose universal theme of individuality vs. corporation can also be interpreted as independent film vs. Hollywood, among a number of other examples. Where Pixar and Dreamworks seem to be develop projects for just about anyone to enjoy, Blue Sky is almost entirely devoted to the younger moviegoers much like the hand-drawn days of Disney. There's a lot less adult humor, so don’t expect a lot of buzz for “Robots” to circulate around the adult world. It does however create an amazing world for children to look at in wonder, and that's why it's still probably the best kid's film of the year.
The widescreen DVD release of "Robots" is a pleasant surprise in light of the less-than-average film. Presented in a beautiful, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video format, along with a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, the single-disc release contains hours of bonus features, as well as a few things for the kiddies. Headlining the bonus material are two full-length audio commentary tracks with director Chris Wedge and Producer William Joyce, and the Blue Sky Studios technical crew. Both tracks offer great insight into the making of the film, but like most commentaries featuring more than a few people, the second track became clustered with so many speaking at once. Also included on the disc is the short film "Aunt Fanny's Tour of Booty," the original test scene for the film, and three deleted scenes with optional commentary. The best of the bunch are two production featurettes focused on character inspiration and the music of the Blue Man Group, while kids will have fun reading profiles about all of the different robots and playing a series of interactive games. All in all, "Robots" is not a bad family film worth checking up, but you'd be better off spending your time with one of Pixar's far superior films.