THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I think I’ve said this before, but it seems as though each new computer-animated movie that comes out is more amazing-looking than the one before. In the past four months, we’ve had the one-two-three punch of The Incredibles, The Polar Express, and now Robots. I remember thinking (at the time) that nothing could ever look as dazzling as 1995’s Toy Story, but ten years later we have this new film that is so astonishing you can hardly believe your eyes.

Set in a world that is completely populated by robots, the movie’s central character is Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewen McGregor), a young robot who has dreamed of becoming an inventor. Rodney lives with his mother and father (who is literally a dishwasher). One day, he decides to head into Robot City, where he will pitch one of his inventions to Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a much-beloved corporation owner who encourages the common robot to share in his entrepreneurial dreams.

The first person Rodney meets is Fender (Robin Williams), a gangly red robot with an inconvenient handle dangling from his head. Like many of the citizens of Robot City, Fender is a bit rusty and he could use a few spare parts, as his limbs have an annoying tendancy to fall off. Parts are suddenly hard to come by, though, as Rodney discovers upon arriving at the Bigweld headquarters. It seems that Bigweld himself has been put out to pasture by the scheming Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear). Ratchet has a plan to increase the riches of the company shareholders by eliminating spare parts and making robots purchase expensive stainless steal “upgrades” instead. In his view of the world, there is no room for a robot who looks like Fender – or Rodney, for that matter.

The only way to take down Ratchet is to locate Bigweld and enlist him in the fight. Fender introduces Rodney to his gang of “outmodes,” including little sister Piper (Amanda Bynes), Crank (Drew Carey), and the large-bottomed Aunt Fanny (voiced by Jennifer Coolidge, although they missed an opportunity by not casting Jennifer Lopez). The outmodes agree to help locate Bigweld and take down Ratchet, as does Cappy (Halle Berry), one of Ratchet’s stainless steel colleagues, who secretly despises the evil plan.

Robots works on two levels. The first is a visual level. The attention to detail is so intricate that I nearly forgot I was watching animation. The robotic characters often look like they were created using 3-D stop-motion techniques. You can see the rust on their bodies and the common household elements used to make them. (Rodney’s father, for instance, has drain plugs for ears.) The robots are incredibly fun to look at, and each one has a unique personality. Then there’s the look of Robot City itself, which is nothing short of a masterpiece of design. I especially liked the city’s transit system, in which passengers are placed into metal balls and spun through a series of pulleys, slides, and catapults to get from one place to another. The movie is worth seeing just for the original look of it.

The other level on which the picture works is the humor level. This is a very funny movie, filled with wall-to-wall jokes and gags. In fact, there are so many humorous elements packed into Robots that you will have to see it multiple times to catch them all. Some of the jokes are squarely aimed at kids, such as the one in which Fender’s rear end suddenly falls off. Others are more subtle, for the adults. When Rodney needs a place to spend the night, Fender says: “You can sleep in my bunk. We’ll ignore the gossip.” Still more are little details tucked away into the background. When Fender shows Rodney a map to the stars’ homes, you must look carefully to see names like “Britney Gears.” There’s also great humor in just hearing these famous actors provide voices for robots. I was partial to Tim, who sadistically guards the gate at the Bigweld company. He is voiced by the great Paul Giamatti, speaking in a falsetto voice that drips with sarcasm. From one end to the other, Robots is overflowing with things to laugh at. There are a lot more examples I could cite, but I’d rather allow you to discover the biggest laughs for yourself.

If there is anything to criticize about Robots, it’s that the movie is so busy being clever and witty and visually stunning that it never achieves the emotional level of, say, Finding Nemo or the Shrek movies. The film has a heart, but it’s not as big as some of the other computer-animated entries; the emphasis is more on other areas. In the greater scheme of things, this is not a major flaw. There is a lot to admire and to enjoy here. Director Chris Wedge – who also made Ice Age and its forthcoming sequel – has crafted a movie that is a joy to watch. I sat in my seat for 90 minutes enthralled by the look of the film and laughing continually at the endlessly clever jokes. Robots is wonderful family entertainment.

( 1/2 out of four)

Robots is rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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