Was it accidental or intentional that, in a world populated by living machines, not a single soul can be found?
Inspired by Bigweld (Mel Brooks voice), an inventor who encourages viewers of his television show to follow their dreams, Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor voice) dreams of going to Robot City (because the world is full of nothing but mechanized lifeforms) and become an inventor himself. On the eve of Rodney finally arriving to make his dreams come true, a corporate robot named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear voice) puts a plan into action to force robots to upgrade their worn out parts to newer, more expensive ones or face becoming obsolete (read: scrap metal) if they can’t afford them.
The world of Robots is like watching a futuristic “Rube Goldberg” (built with gold and silver clockwork gears) running amuck. It’s crazy, it’s beautiful, but also has a cold and lifeless appearance about it. The robots that populate this world range from sleek and new to aged and rusted out, but each one seems to be merely an archetype (in no way helped out by assigning a celebrity voice to each one). The result is a beautiful cliché that’s fun to watch before you immediately forget it.
Director Chris Wedge, maker of Ice Age and its upcoming sequel, stuck to the same formula: create a situation, stuff in appropriate character archetypes, give them a celebrity voices, and print. Ice Age worked because it centered on its principle dinosaur-age characters, all of which managed to evolve (pun intended), but Robots seems more intent on spectacle than storytelling. You can almost see the call sheet: misunderstood ‘bot, hero ‘bot, villain ‘bot, love interest ‘bot, mentor ‘bot, and so on. It’s casting and storytelling by the numbers but still not any more interesting than the fantastic world these uninteresting things live in.
The message initially sounds like “big corporations and profits are bad” but it really just boils down to “follow your dreams, do your best, and help out where you can,” so Robots is safe kids fare that adults shouldn’t be too bored with. With a PG rating, parents can also enjoy an eclectic blend of music for the soundtrack (rock, pop, rap, etc.) while younger kids will miss many of the cleverly-written dialogue full of double-meanings. Ultimately, when compared to any character in Ice Age (including the manic saber-toothed squirrel the director voices himself), the characters of Robots feel as lifeless and mechanical as they look.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)