In a wild, Erector-set world, a young robot seeks fame and fortune as an inventor. While fighting evil forces of planned obsolescence, he repairs his fellow robots with spare parts, proving that, “You don’t have to be upgraded to be valuable.” That’s the nuts and bolts of Robots, the latest animated adventure from the folks who created Ice Age.
The movie’s a 91-minute robotic romp that’s so visually clever that adults are left numb with astonishment, and so kinetic that the kids go dizzy. It doesn’t engender much emotional response — I believe that characters need hair (or at least fur) to create a strong bond with a human audience — but it is lots of fun, and you definitely get your money’s worth. Unlike other PG movies these days (such as The Pacifier), which are one-time-only entertainments, you’ll want to buy Robots on video so you can watch it over and over by yourself after the kids go to bed.
In Rivet City, Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is the beloved son of modest robots. Though his father, Herb (voiced by Stanley Tucci), dreamed of being a musician, he instead became a dishwasher — literally: Herb puts the dishes inside his torso to wash them. Dad and Mom (voiced by Diane West) birthed Rodney from used parts out of a mail-order shipment, so he really is a hand-me-down kid. They also gave him courage and spunk — “Old parts or new parts you can shine!” is their motto — and a spark of genius. Inventor Rodney is obsessed by another motto — “Find a need, fill a need” — so he’s always looking for problems he can invent solutions for.
He’s most proud of “Wonder-bot,” a teapot helicopter contraption (not unlike Tinkerbell) who helps Dad do an endless pile of dirty dishes. Even though Wonder-bot blows a gasket every time he gets nervous, Rodney dreams of showing off his creation to Bigweld (Mel Brooks), the legendary, Yiddish-joking wizard of tooled inventiveness.
Rodney takes a Polar Express-like train into Robot City, where he gets the same rude awakening all young people get when they land in the big city. Suddenly he’s just one more dreamer in a city geared to make dreamers either get tough or quit. Fortunately, Rodney hooks up with a good-natured goof named Fender (voiced by Robin Williams). (“Fender is my favorite character,” says my PG-movie consultant, 12-year-old Zach Maynard. “He was so funny and original and always seemed to fall apart. He couldn’t keep himself together.”)
The new friends board a vehicle that looks like a metallic Wiffle ball. In the zaniest intra-metropolitan transit scene ever filmed, Rodney and Fender are hurled, curled, catapulted, slid and Ferris-wheeled across town. “It was funny and creative,” says Zach, “how they used so many ordinary things like a hammer and balls to make the action.” After you’ve seen Robots, you’ll never look at levers, pulleys and gears in the same way, and you’ll go into a creative frenzy should you come upon a pile of cast-off metal parts.
In a twist not unlike Dorothy’s discovery in The Wizard of Oz, Rodney finds that Bigweld is not all he’s welded up to be. In fact, the bowling ball-shaped icon isn’t the best-charged battery in the box.
Big-chested, narrow-minded Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear) is the tyrant in charge at Bigweld Industries. He wants to send all the current robots into a terrifying smelting furnace and upgrade the entire population. “Why be you,” Ratchet’s new advertising slogan proclaims, “when you can be new?”
Mercifully, there’s a sexy, elegantly polished executive, Cappy (voiced by Halle Berry), who takes a shining to Rodney. They join forces with the Rusties — fearless friends of Fender — to prove the value of making spare parts.
Zach is definitely going to tell his friends they should see Robots. “It was a good comedy,” he says. “It does have the same plot that’s been used a lot before — you know, Star Wars and Lion King, where the boy rescues the old man and then he becomes a hero — but I’ve never seen a robot movie before, and that [one] was good.” And even though Zach thought Robots should have more subplots, he did like the main theme. “It’s a good theme and a true thing: ‘You can affect the world no matter who you are.’ I agree with that.” Rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor.
— reviewed by Marci Miller