Brave New Animated World
“I once told a friend the thing that would make me happiest would be the chance to design an entire world,” says author and illustrator William Joyce. “And with Robots I got the chance to do just that.”
In preparing for this clever new animated movie -- populated entirely by robots -- everything had to be invented. Joyce, who served as the film’s executive producer and production designer, did his homework well. His research included items at junkyards, factories, second hand stores, and even his kitchen. In fact, Joyce’s own waffle iron and meat grinder provided some of the inspiration for the movie. Working with directors Chris Wedge (Ice Age) and Carlos Saldanha (Gone Nutty) and using Blue Sky’s rendering technology, Joyce created an absolutely incredible setting for a host of animated characters who exude warmth and humor despite their mechanical nature.
Rodney Copperbottom (voiced enthusiastically by Ewan McGregor and designed partially on Joyce’s grandfather’s outboard motor), the intrepid hero of Robots, travels to Robot City to share his Wonderbot invention with Bigweld (Mel Brooks), the chief inventor of the land. But Bigweld isn’t easy to find, because a sleek silvery robot named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) has taken over the company to please his evil, manipulative mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent!). Ratchet and mom want to stop robots from using spare parts for repairs and go for upgrades instead. With a nod to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World mantra of “Ending is better than mending,” they’ve even changed the company’s slogan from “No matter what you’re made of, you can shine” to “Why be you when you can be new?”
Among the fascinating robots who help Rodney adjust to the big city, find Bigweld and squash Ratchet’s nefarious plans are Fender (Robin Williams), Cappy (Halle Berry), Piper (Amanda Bynes), Aunt Fanny (Jennifer Coolidge), and Crank Casey (Drew Carey). They all have a unique look, but Williams, as a robot falling apart in practically every scene, overpowers everyone with his fast-talking quips and his hilarious parody of Gene Kelly’s legendary Singin' in the Rain musical number.
Too bad the film doesn't capitalize more on its musical potential. I'm not criticizing the background score by John Powell (Shrek) -- its edginess seems entirely appropriate for a movie with a mechanical setting, and adding percussions by the Blue Man Group was a great idea. No, I’m talking about featuring more musical routines like “Singin’ in the Oil” and the rousing finale. However, I don’t know what could be cut from the amusing screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to make room for them -- and I realize youngsters have trouble with movies longer than 90 minutes.
I certainly wouldn’t delete the exciting roller-coaster type ride on that Robot City Express, which reminded me of a similar terrific scene from Chicken Run. Perhaps some of the flatulence jokes could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor. Still, those got lots of laughs, especially from the kiddies.
Despite minor quibbles, I felt great joy while discovering a whole new world in Robots, and I plan to visit it again.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated “PG” for some brief language and suggestive humor.)