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"Robots" Have More Heart Than Sharks

Some of my favorite moments from Futurama are the ones that see robots put in situations you’d think would be exclusive to humans. Fox’s new movie Robots, with animation by Blue Sky, may not have a character as edgy as Bender, but it does manage to build an entire society of robots that, even without any organic life, is so alive and bustling you’ll forget you’re watching rusty androids and see them as actual characters.

Our story begins with Mr. and Mrs. Copperbottom getting their baby son “delivered”. We watch as young Rodney (Ewan McGregor) grows up in an environment where his dad barely has enough money to get by. Rodney even has to use his cousins’ hand-me-down upgrades as he “grows up”. This is when he sees a very Wide World of Disney-esque program starring Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a rotund businessbot with the common bots on his mind. Our hero learns that any bot can shine and dedicates his life to becoming an inventor that Bigweld will recognize and of whom his parents will be proud. When Bigweld goes missing for a few years a new guy steps in: Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a smarmy, sleek, stainless steel corporate leader who limits the company’s production to brand new upgrades, stopping distribution on spare and repair parts. This problem “out-modes” many of Rodney’s friends, all robots who have seen better days. Among them is eccentric, ambiguously gay Fender (Robin Williams) who never shuts up, Piper (Amanda Bynes) Fender’s spunky younger sister, and Crank (Drew Carrey), a three wheeled bot too lazy to do much more than complain. One of Bigweld’s employees, Cappy (Halle Berry) decides to help Rodney, who is now fixing robots so they won’t end up in Madame Gasket’s (Jim Broadbent) Chop Shop to die. Of course, they’re also out to find Bigweld and put an end to Ratchet and Gasket’s scheming.

The animation in Robots is fluid and expressive, not at all like the robots we’re used to seeing in movies (except for the moments when the film spoofs it), especially when it comes to Fenders erratic movements and spastic reactions. The wide variety of shapes and sizes of the various, unnamed “extras” is truly awesome and reflects the effort that’s gone into this movie. There isn’t a “human template” as in Pixar’s The Incredibles, and each robot has unique parts that bend, fold, roll, coil, spring, compress, compact, spin, dangle, and segment, among other things. But the biggest achievement goes to the environment itself, specifically Robotcity’s elaborate transportation system, featured in two exhilirating action sequences, which resembles a giant pinball machine of death. There are many such elaborate and creative “chase” scenes, most notably a fight/dance on a ball bearing covered floor and a spectacular domino maze.

The comedy relies mostly on some timeless and some not-too-current pop culture references and juvenile fart jokes. And then there’s Robin Williams, whose explosive personality can barely be contained by Fender’s decrepit body. Thankfully the movie knows when to switch the focus back on to the story so Willams’ antics don’t get too annoying.

Another problem with the film is that some characters, specifically hulking Lug and silent Diesel, are so underused that even though they are in most of the movie they have little personality or actual relevance. They manage to get “battle upgrades,” but I’m not sure that qualifies as character development exactly.

There are no post-credit gags or “outtakes,” but it is worth sitting through the creative ending credits, which show off the mechanical designs of some of the minor characters and set pieces. This shows off a little more of the movie’s world and helps give the audience an idea of the incredible amount of work that must have gone into making the artificial life we see on the screen seem real.

Overall, the movie gives us an entertaining story of a little guy standing up to Big Buisness and making something of himself. There is no objectional language or innuendo so parents shouldn’t feel too awkward taking their kids to go see it. This picture, unlike the drowning-in-attitude Shark Tale, has plenty of heart and sincerity, and makes a fine time at the movies for the kids. And, hey, parents just might enjoy it too.

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