Mechanical plot, puns keep ‘Robots’ turning

Beth Rankin

Amanda Bynes (left), Harland Williams, Drew Carey and Robin Williams lend their voices to Robots, which opened at No. 1 on last weekend’s box office chart.

Credit: Beth Rankin

What an inspired, gorgeous and memorable world the characters of Robots inhabit.

Like Finding Nemo and the Shrek movies, it creates a complete universe unto itself; one filled with bigger-than-life erector sets and some of the most memorable character designs in film history. But after letting the setting sink in for a few minutes, I was forced to pay attention to the plot, which is (to use a very bad pun) robotic.

There was so much potential to be had here! The story starts promisingly enough, with Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) being delivered (some assembly required, of course) to his parents.

Before you know it, Rodney is off on his own following his dream of becoming an inventor in Robot City. After he arrives at his destination and gets a tour of the town in some of the best sequences ever to come out of a computer animated movie, Robots goes into second gear. (Oh, will the puns never cease?)

We get this very uninteresting corporate scandal plot, with the evil Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear) denying spare parts to robots who need them. Whaaat?

Robots has the morale that you should be yourself and stand up to the corporate machine (three puns in one review, this has to be some sort of record), but the writers seem unable to come up with a more original way to approach the subject. They take the spotlight off the jokes aimed at inspiring children and settle instead on low blows about plastic — er, metal — surgery and farting.

Robots features, oddly enough, every actor from Hollywood except Jude Law, who must have had laryngitis after finishing up Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I haven’t seen this much talent on display since The Muppet Movie.

Here’s a fairly complete list of who we get to hear: Halle Berry (and let me tell you, a robotic Halle Berry is no substitute for Halle’s real berries), Jim Broadbent (you know him as the crazy old guy in Moulin Rouge!), Mel Brooks (gathering funds for a prequel trilogy to Spaceballs), Amanda Bynes (the non-Disney related tween idol), Drew Carey (not dead yet)…

Jennifer Coolidge (not quite Stifler’s mom this time around, but her name is Aunt Fanny), James Earl Jones (again, not dead yet), Paul Giamatti (take that, Academy voters!), Greg Kinnear (still in denial about the implosion of his career), Jay Leno (why oh why?)…

Ewan McGregor (no, there is no frontal nudity), Stanley Tucci (who must tell at least 10 people a day that he is not the guy from “Law & Order: SVU”), Dianne Wiest (fresh off her Emmy-worthy role in Category 6: Day of Destruction — snicker) and (gasps for breath) Robin Williams.

I will never understand the appeal for Williams to take on roles in animated or special effect-heavy films. He is at his most original and hilarious when performing off-the-cuff and allowed to run rampant onscreen. Yes, his shtick worked in Aladdin, but that was more because of the quality and rapid-fire nature of the rehearsed jokes than his talents as a comedian.

Here he does an average job bringing to life Fender, the energetic tour guide in Robot City. I don’t want to see Williams playing it safe by being forgettable in family-friendly films like Jumanji, Flubber and this. I want to see him loosed and manic, stealing every scene and imprinting his performance on my memory.

But I digress. The token messages are mechanical (pun number four, yeah baby!) in nature and put into the plot in such a way that they are driven into the viewer’s head until they are so sure they get the point they walk out of the movie reciting what the message is instead of understanding what it means.

So how do I rate this movie? I enjoyed the people, places and things on display but the insides are nothing more than spare parts (bah dum bum). I’m recommending it because I liked it more than I should have, and I think you’ll like it as well. But I think it will not stick in the public consciousness like most computer animated films do. This is more of Antz than A Bug’s Life.

Contact Pop Arts reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected].