‘Robots’ has its pedal to the metal, but where’s the love?
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that computer-generated animation is having an impact on film today tantamount to the effect of the introduction of sound in film’s early days or even the advent of color had in its era.
With each successive CGI movie that comes to the big screen we witness the maturation of a technology that appears boundless. There is a sense that the major studios want to keep upping the ante — outdoing, at least visually — the films that came before.
The new film “Robots,” from Blue Sky Studios (the team that created “Ice Age”), is clearly a product of a highly motivated environment.
Directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha assembled a team of creative animators and world-class actors to lend their voices in the hope of raising the bar once again.
In many respects they have succeeded. The graphics are stunning and remarkably detailed, down to the last shining ball bearing. You would expect a film about machines to contain lots of chrome and metal, but the steely realism of Robot City still inspires awe.
Ewan McGregor voices Rodney Copperbottom, the everybot protagonist who leaves home to fulfill his dream of meeting inventor extraordinaire Bigweld. (Voiced winningly by Mel Brooks).
The scenes detailing his “arrival” and childhood are inventive and filled with delightful ideas that would make Rube Goldberg and Hoover engineers smile proudly. The cast of misfit bots that Rodney meets along his journey include Fender (Robin Williams) and Piper (Amanda Bynes). Williams’ madcap shtick has its moments, but it seems too familiar in a movie that aspires to transcend its genre. (The new benchmark: “The Incredibles.”)
The plot is arcane. Bad bot Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) removes Bigweld and orders his workers to stop making upgrade parts. Despite this flimsy framework, the film has some good action sequences. Among the best is a trippy avalanche of dominoes that, when combined with a never-say-die “Wizard of Oz”-like spirit, should keep kids entranced.
Parents — especially those who grew up in a pre-computerized era when shiny appliances ruled — will be pleasantly entertained. (Parents should note that because of several innuendoes the film is NOT rated G.)
But the nuts and bolts of animated movies — well, almost all of them — is how audiences connect to the characters. This is where the heart of “Robots” feels like a full metal jacket rather than a warm and fuzzy favorite sweater. The great animated films of the past decade or so — both “Toy Story” movies, “Finding Nemo” and even the aforementioned “Ice Age” — took the time to introduce and explore the subtleties of their characters and provided real identities for both their heroes and villains that were lovable as well as memorable.
Is it nitpicky to expect more from a film that has so much going for it? Maybe, but consider this: Would anyone take time to watch the fascinating Krispy Kreme conveyor belt if there weren’t a warm, succulent doughnut at the end of the line?
Rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor.