(Release Date: March 11, 2005)
That said... remember a couple of years ago (in my review for Finding Nemo), I lamented the rise in "Live Action" actors slowly encroaching upon the "Voice Actors" domain since Aladdin? Well, it was almost impossible not to laugh as the opening credits unspooled on Robots. Here... Try it with me:
Rough, isn't it? Everyone's a star! It makes me conjure the disturbing picture of Paul "Tigger" Winchell sitting outside of Fox Studios selling Pencils. Good thing the talents here aren't wasted (even those with a collective 3 seconds of audio-time), because Robots is a good movie, and is a joy to watch from the look, to the laughs, to the story. I kept looking for flaws that I couldn't find! Funny stuff!
We start in Rivet Town, a village of Classic 1950's looking Robots, reminding one of their old Fridgidaires and Edsels. There, Mr. and Mrs. Copperbottom (get it?) bid farewell to their only built and begotten son, Rodney (Ewan McGregor), who goes off to Robot City to seek his fortune as an inventor. Sadly, Mom and Dad (Weist and Tucci, respectively) never prepared Rodney for the nasty reality of the big city, where even the model of class and fairness (Mel Brooks' Bigweld, the greatest robot of them all) has fallen from his lofty perch in favor of Delorian-styled Stainless Steel robots who want to eliminate uniqueness in favor of upgraded reflective perfection.
Rodney remains a model of altruistic integrity, however, and fixes his new "Outmode" friends, even when "Spare Parts" are no longer available. However, when the big, bad "powers that be" led by Kinnear's Ratchet, and the surprisingly dark forces behind him catch on to Rodney's fool idealistic crusade (note the Star Wars alumni in the cast), it's up to our new hero, along with his new friends, including Robin Williams' hilarious Fender to save the proverbial day!
The Production Design (by William Joyce... I know the guy) is a wonder to look at and miles above his similarly-themed Rolie Polie Olie. The more individualized, and poorer robots all have that well-worn look of an old, retro appliance, with chipped paint, and rich, shiny, outmoded colors. The computer animation that brings these guys to life is picturesque and plays upon the intentional flaws beautifully, making for an impossible-to-be-real, realism! The more "Hi-Tech" robots are similarly beautiful, but intentionally less individualized. Their Art-Deco stylings and uniform menace accent the scary point of view of the bad guys.
However, it's not just the "Look" of this film that makes it worthwhile. The story, though somewhat flat and not completely original, is a good allegory for kids, fun to watch for teens, and not too hard on the noodle for the seen-it-all adults in the audience. The characters are well-developed and likeable, and the actors give all around great performances.
Robin Williams' Fender really feels like Williams at his improvisational best, and Ewan McGregor's voice is nearly unrecognizably accent-free. Of course, the great Drew Carey is excellent as Crank, and Mel Brooks' Bigweld is fun, but what works in the performances is the fact that these big names never get in each others way, and form a complimentary ensemble to add to an already groovy movie!
True, I miss the days of the Voice Actor, which seem to be coming to a close, but these folks handle it well. There is a bit of preachiness in the form of a "Being Yourself Is The Best Thing You Can Be!" message, spelled out all too clearly for the kids, and a drawn-out Fart competition is tiresome and far too long. However, all told, the flaws are small and few.
It's just an all-around good movie from the wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments to the broader picture that couldn't be more fun to watch. Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Robots, the good-looking kids movie with more Hollywood Stars than the Griffith Park Observatory and more laughs than an underarm encounter with a feather duster! Tip of the hat to you, Bill Joyce! See your shiny metal kiesters in the next reel, amigos y amigas!
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