© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Coolidge, Paul Giamatti, Stanley Tucci, Dianne Wiest, Harland Williams
Directors: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Writers: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Jim McClain (story), Ron Mita (story)
Distributor: Fox
MPAA Rating: PG for brief language and crude humor
Running time: 91 minutes

Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 6
Animation – 8
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 8

Total Score – 6.4 of 10

The “I” in this ROBOTS stands for “eye” candy. The (voice-over) star-studded fair from 20th Century Fox happens in a familiar, civilized world devoid of any human beings, much like last year’s SHARK TALES.

“Made” by dish-washer Herb Copperbottom (Tucci) and his wife (Wiest), son Rodney (McGregor) is an aspiring inventor. After many failed attempts, Rodney finally invents something useful, and he’s ready to leave for the big city to find his fortune with Bigweld Industries, the haven for inventors. When Rodney arrives, however, he is turned away like a pest. Dejected, he makes friends with an eclectic group of misfits who call themselves the “Rusties,” among them hyperactive Fender (Williams), spunky Piper (Bynes), goofy Crank (Carey), and “posteriorly endowed” Aunt Fanny (Coolidge).

Soon Rodney discovers Mr. Bigweld (Brooks) no longer runs Bigweld Industries. Instead, ambitious CEO Ratchet (Kinnear) aims at taking over the company for good, and turning huge profits by forcing every robot to either upgrade or become an “out-mod.” Worse, out-mods would be swept away and turned into scrap metal by his evil mother Madame Gasket (Broadbent).

Unable to afford the upgrades or find replacement parts, many robots are on the verge of becoming scrap metal, including Rodney’s father. Using his skills, Rodney manages to fix the ’bots that come to him for help. But he can only fix so many robots at a time. With the help of sympathetic Bigweld executive Cappy (Berry), Rodney finds Mr. Bigweld and tries to convince him to come out of retirement and take his company back from Ratchet. That doesn’t sit well with Madame Gasket and Ratchet, and they’re out to destroy Rodney and the gang.

The long list of voice-over talents in this film is staggering. McGregor (STAR WARS) lends his spirited voice as Rodney. Williams (THE FINAL CUT) gives some of his most outrageous readings and adlibs ever since his genie in the 1992 ALADDIN. He’s simply hilarious. Broadbent (BRIDGET JONES) is creepy as the voice of Madame Gasket (there seems to be a trend for males doing female voices these days). Kinnear (GODSEND) is interesting as the narcissistic Ratchet. The rest of the cast all perform well in their relatively minor roles, especially Giamatti (SIDEWAYS) – his Tim the Gate Guard is funny, wicked, cute, cruel, and awful at the same time. (*rant* this guy was seriously robbed of an Oscar nomination, man!)

It’s almost impossible to list all the celebrity voices in this film, and that’s part of the problem. There are way too many characters, many of them minor. There seems to be a “who is who” or “blink and you’ll miss them” joke every few minutes. Part of the real problem is the busy, unfocused and frantic script. There is almost no downtime. The fast-paced story does a fine job entertaining the youngsters, but it becomes exhausting for the adults after a while. The climatic “battle” and the happy ending are loud and borderline obnoxious. The story itself is tried and true, thus predictable. An animated feature doesn’t have to be dumb and frantic. Fox should learn a thing or two from the folks at Pixar, who continue to give us smart, witty, sophisticated stories and characters without boring the entire family.

That said, the visuals and animation of ROBOTS are top-notch. The high-energy action and editing serve the film well. The animation is colorful, smooth and complex. The mechanical nature of the inanimate robots as people also creates a fun universe, where babies are “assembled” and they grow by having upgrades, where one can get an instant sex change by swapping gender-specific parts, where cities turn into junkyards and transportation systems work like toys. There are many really, really cool ideas and entertaining eye candies in this film, as well as subtle satire. For example, one can’t help but speculate the implication of the Bigweld-Ratchet relationship (do we hear the names Walt and Michael?) While the story is its weakest link, the lively animation and spirited voice performances help save the film from being robotic and dull.

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