Chop shop: Robots revisit the makeover
Talk about a workout! Robots is the most exhausting movie in some time. It combines the manic energy of Robin Williams as the voice of a major character with one warp-speed action sequence after another. When it does slow down, the audience is laughing too hard to notice, and too much is happening in each frame to absorb in only one or two viewings.
The plot is summarized in a very different film, which is playing concurrently in several markets, Inside Deep Throat, when former pornstar/disco diva Andrea True says, "Today it's all about money."
That's what young Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) discovers when he ventures into the world in this coming-of-age story. His hero, Big Weld (Mel Brooks), "the greatest robot in the world," has been replaced as head of his own company by young corporate type Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), and what used to be about need is now about greed.
It might be worth mentioning that the characters are all robots. This is an all-robot world in which the Big Weld company is going from manufacturing inexpensive spare parts to selling expensive makeovers, and those "outmodes" who can't afford them will wind up as scrap metal. The company's slogan changes from "You can shine no matter what you're made of" to "Why be you when you can be new?"
After young viewers assimilate the anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist message, they can leave the theater and go shopping for the Robots videogame and action figures while awaiting the DVD.
Ratchet, whose mother (Jim Broadbent) pulls his strings like an android Lady Macbeth, must eventually be brought down by Rodney and the other good, downtrodden robots. They include Fender (Williams), the conbot who latches onto Rodney when he arrives in Robot City from his old-fashioned birthplace, Rivet Town; Cappy (Halle Berry), Ratchet's sexually harassed personal assistant; Aunt Fanny (Jennifer Coolidge), who runs a boarding house for low-income robots; and Piper (Amanda Bynes), Fender's sister who has a crush on Rodney.
With Cappy and Piper both interested in Rodney, there's a potential love triangle that's largely ignored. A quick shot at the end suggests who wins, but doesn't explain how or why.
Rodney's life begins at birth when he's delivered to the Copperbottoms (Stanley Tucci, Dianne Wiest). "Making the baby's the fun part," she says, some assembly being required. Rodney grows by the periodic replacement of one set of parts with larger ones, usually hand-me-downs from a relative. He has a difficult adolescence after being given the torso of a female cousin. (Later, Fender will become female from the waist down. Is this a theme?)
While he's not ashamed of his father, a dishwasher in a restaurant, Rodney is encouraged by Big Weld on TV to become an inventor– "See a need, fill a need." He builds a little gizmo and heads for the big city to show it to Big Weld. Fender greets him with, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, and if you can't make it here, welcome to the club."
Rodney wins friends quickly with his ability to repair robots, even without spare parts. When he asks, "Who wants to be fixed?" the world beats a path to his door. All except Robodog.
Life was simpler when animated features were all either Disney or crap. Now there are worthy imports from Asia and France, and DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox have their own animation departments. Robots is from the same Fox team that made Ice Age, and they do good work.
Having an all-robot cast solves the problem of computer animation seemingly being unable to give texture to human skin. Some of the scenes may be the most complex and detailed seen yet in an animated film, from vast crowds to Rube Goldbergian contraptions to the domino sequence to end all domino sequences.
McGregor makes a bland hero, but every actor needs a specialty. His presence plus one line from James Earl Jones reinforce the trailer before the movie in reminding viewers that Star Wars: Episode III is coming this spring. Not that the makers of Robots would encourage that kind of corporate synergy or anything.