By Carter B. Horsley
"Robots" is an extremely
original and very spectacular animation movie that is chock full
of surprises and several absolutely mind-blowing sequences.
It is a great work of art.
Virtually every scene is a fine composition full of adorable thing-a-mabobs,
each with distinct and very expressive personalities. Stylistically,
the movie-makers have created a highly consistent aesthetic that
is the quintessence of the spirit of Art Deco/International Modern,
fairly streamlined with little artistic flourishes: the machine
world of the 1930s to 1950s come alive.
It is a wacky, albeit not too
high-tech, tinker heaven. Grease-monkeys, start your engines!
Animation and special effects
have come a very long way. The virtual world of movies has made
"Alien" (see The
City Review article)
monsters and "Terminator 2" (see The City Review article) and prehistoric creatures and toys come alive with
The greatness of "Bladerunner"
(see The City Review
article) was the emotional
intensity of robots not wanting to die, and, of course, its brilliant
sets of a bleak future, megastructural world.
"Robots" is distinguished
by a slightly dull metallic palette that is as important in its
own way as the intensely brilliant technicolor world in "The
Wizard of Oz" (see The
City Review article)
or the richly saturated tints of "Dick Tracy" (see The City Review article). Everything is not shiny and bright
and new in "Robots," but rather worn and scratched and
dented and used, factors that significantly enhance its believeability.
"Robots" is a morality play of sorts. The former stressed
the importance of telling the truth. The latter's theme is the
importance of perseverance and good works.
Every movie with great animation
has a couple of truly memorable scenes: the bar scene in "Star
Wars" where a google of strange creatures cavort and the
forest scene where the humans fly through a forest; and countless
climaxes in recent disaster movies like "Independence Day,"
and "Armageddon." Despite a rather slow start, "Robots"
does not save its ammunition until the end and is full of "wow"
sequences. "Titanic" had its ship. "Gladiator"
had its colosseum." "The Fifth Element" (see The City Review article) had its flying cabs. "Robots"
has its Rube Golbergian pinball transportation sequence, its wind-up
flock of birds on the street scene, its dishwashing sequence and
We are going very accustomed
to a virtual world where the restraints of reality are released.
The superhuman feats of derring-do in "House of the Flying
Daggers" (see The
City Review article),
"Hero" (see The
City Review article),
and the "Superman" and "Batman" and "The
Mummy" (see The
City Review article)
series have forever transformed the self-consciousness of mere
mortals. We are probably endangered of becoming blasť about
movie magic and "Robots" is just the tonic to take to
shake the virtual blues.
What is most endearing about
"Robots" is that while the robots have human characteristics
of movement and expression, they also have their "foibles."
Some are not too bright, some
are obsessed with the opposite sex, some are evil, some are mean,
some are heroic.
The film begins with the birth/assembly of
Rodney Copperbottom, whose voice is Ewan McGregor. As he grows
up, his father gives him new spare parts and is advised by his
father, Herb, whose voice is Stanley Tucci, a dishwasher to follow
his dreams as an inventor. Young Rodney invents a helicopter fixer-upper
to help his father at the kitchen where he works. Soon he decides
to depart Rivet City in the hopes of meeting his hero, Big Weld,
whose voice is Mel Brooks, in Robot City where he runs a huge
company. Upon arrival in Robot City, he is accosted by Fender,
whose voice is Robin Williams, a tourist hustler, and Cappy, a
yellow feminine robot who takes a shine to him, whose voice is
Halle Berry, and Crank Casey, whose voice is Drew Carey.
When they try to meet Big Weld they are confronted
instead by Phineas T. Ratchet, whose voice is Greg Kinnear. Ratchet
is the most streamlined of all the robots and has a very domineering
mother, Madame Gasket, whose voice is Jim Broadbent, and they
have taken over control of BigWeld Industries and have ending
the making of spare parts to encourage "upgrades."
In hisMarch 11, 2005 review of the film, Roger
Ebert notes that Ratchet "is uninterested in improving the
product because a perfect product would be bad for sales."
This rationale, of course, is at the heart of "The Man in
the White Suit" (see The City Review
article), the comedic masterpiece about inventiveness and
corporate and labor union ethics.
'"Upgrades! That's how we make the dough!"
he explains, sounding like a consumer electronics executive. By
the time this movie comes out on DVD, there will be two competing
and incompatible DVD-HD systems in the marketplace, which will
suit Phineas T. Ratchet just fine, since whichever one you buy,
you should have bought the other one, and he will manufacture
both," Mr. Ebert observed.
(Mr. Ebert liked the movie, which got mixed
reviews from some critics, maintainging that it "is a joy
to behold entirely apart from what it is about. It looks happy,
and, more to the point, it looks harmonious. One of the reasons
this entirely impossible world works is because it looks like
it belongs together, as if it evolved organically.")
Mr. Ebert also notes that "giant corporations have replaced
Nazis as dependable movie villains," adding that Ratchet,
who plans an inside takeover of Big Weld's empire, is obviously
a student of the theories of conspicuous consumption and planned
Some reviewers have passed "Robot"
off as a kiddie flick, but that is a mistake for this is a complete
and mature work of art.
James Berardinelli, a well-known critic, was
not enthralled by the movie, but conceded in his review that is
has "a certain conceptual elegance" and, perhaps more
importantly, sophistication. He notes that fire hydrant, voiced
by Jay Leno, hisses at a tiny robot dog about to lift its leg,
"Don't even think about it!" Mr. Bernardinelli confessed
that "Robots" was the first "family animated feature
in which more than 50 percent of the gags seemed squarely aimed
If there is a flaw, it is a somewhat prolonged
flatulence sequence, which some critics have argued appeals to
the very young.
The DVD, which has a list price of $19.98, includes commentary
by the director and producer, deleted scenes, interactive games
and several other special features.