UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Ewan McGregor
Robin Williams
Halle Berry
Greg Kinnear
Mel Brooks
Paul Giamatti
Jim Broadbent

directed by
Chris Wedge
Carlos Saldanha

Robots, the new computer-animated comedy from the folks that brought us 2002’s Ice Age, resembles the type of electronic appliance one might pick up at a discount department store. It looks great on the outside and works well enough in the beginning. But after a while, it craps out thanks to some cheaply produced innards.

Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is a talented young inventor who hopes to make his fortune by moving to Robot City, working in the robotics industry, in particular alongside his boyhood hero, master inventor Big Weld (Mel Brooks). Upon arrival, however, Rodney’s dream threatens to turn rusty when he discovers that Big Weld’s company is now being run by Phineas Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a callous moneymaker who wants to rid the world of the antiquated robots that clutter up the streets of the City.

His dreams dashed, Rodney takes to the streets, where he finds solace in a group of robots lead by Fender (Robin Williams). Fender urges Rodney to help save them from the scrap heap, while Ratchet and his company create threatening new policies on robot reconstruction.

There seem to be two camps of computer-animated features being made today: Pixar and everybody else. Both offer films with stunning visuals. But with the exception of the Shrek films, only Pixar manages to come up with worthwhile stories and memorable characters. The creators of such films as Shark Tale, The Polar Express, Ice Age and now this, choose to fill their movies with big-name stars instead of decent scripts, hoping that marquee names will cover up the film’s literary deficiencies.

They don’t. The screenplay for Robots, credited to ’80s script vets Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell (Parenthood, Splash), throw in a few choice visual jokes here and there alongside a plot that is assembly-line junk guaranteed to make viewers ages six and up yawn in contempt. In addition to the worn-out story, we also get messages shoved down our throats as well. We are here to be entertained, not sermonized.

McGregor, Brooks, Kinnear and Jim Broadbent, as Ratchet’s mother, Madame Gasket, try to bring life to their roles, but find limited success. Halle Berry, as the romantic interest for Rodney, barely registers at all, while Paul Giamatti (Sideways) makes the most of his brief time as the wiseass security guard at Big Weld’s company. One wishes they had used him for the film’s comic relief instead of Robin Williams, recycling his ancient and no longer funny manic shtick from Aladdin.

Robots should delight very young children, but that is about it. Directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha need to understand that visuals can only carry a film so far before the cracks in the story appear, a problem that also plagued Ice Age. Were this film a real piece of machinery, it would be sent back to the factory for some major fine-tuning.

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