on March 11, 2005 by Annlee Ellingson
On the heels of Pixar's "The Incredibles" and DreamWorks' "Shrek" franchise, Blue Sky Studios' "Robots," from the creators of "Ice Age," possesses all the visual razzle dazzle of its rivals--perhaps even more, given the multistrata mechanical metropolis that is its setting. But the ingenuity demonstrated in building a robot world from scratch is undermined by flat characters and an underdeveloped storyline.

Perhaps the film's most delightful invention is where baby 'bots come from. As we discover with the Copperbottoms through the birth of their son Rodney, the "delivery" comes through the mail, and the inevitable leftover doodad after assembly is the difference between a boy and a girl. "Big-boy parts" must be ordered as Rodney grows up, but his dad is a dishwasher (literally) who can only afford hand-me-downs, a source of mortification when his adolescent components are borrowed from a female cousin. Rodney's humble beginnings work well with the pic's overall themes: When he leaves home to make his fortune in the big city, he discovers that his idol Bigweld, an inventor who inspires Rodney to contrive an agitated gadget to help his dad do the dishes, has been replaced at his eponymous corporation by the ruthless Ratchet. Ratchet has halted production on parts, envisioning a world in which all 'bots will invest in his new line of upgrades, as smooth and shiny as Frank Gehry's design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The ones who can't afford it are destined for the chop shop.

Rodney and his pals are nice enough. Maybe too nice. Rodney simply doesn't possess the character flaws that rendered Mr. Incredible and Shrek so endearing. As a result, most of the movie's humor derives from fart jokes and the anachronistic antics of Robin Williams, who invokes "Braveheart" and Britney Spears in the same scene in a stream of constant chatter that induces more anxiety than amusement. Moreover it's not clear in the pic's pivotal moment how Ratchet clamped down either Bigweld's influence or his spirit. Still, like "Toy Story" before it, the milieu of "Robots" is uniquely suited to computer-generated animation, and the filmmakers have paid particular attention to character detail like dents, rust and chipped paint. But the sweetest eye candy here is reserved for the recurring Mousetrap motif, applied to the robot city's public transportation system as well as Bigweld's insatiable dominos habit. Voices by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams. Directed by Chris Wedge. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Produced by Jerry Davis, John C. Donkin and William Joyce. A Fox release. Animated. Rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor. Running time: 91 min
Tags: Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, Directed by Chris Wedge, Written by David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Produced by Jerry Davis, John C. Donkin, William Joyce, A Fox release, Animated, humor, anachronistic, anxiety, amusement

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