Robots directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, voiced by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry and Greg Kinnear. 95 minutes. A 20th Century Fox release. Opens Friday (March 11). For venues and times, see Movies, page 92. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
With Extreme Makeover, The Swan and other reality television shows preaching that you can never be too rich, too thin or too Botoxed, Robots just might save our children, teaching them - and not with the usual subtlety of a jackhammer - that no matter what you're made of, you can shine.
That it does so through the creation of a dizzyingly imaginative robot world with Rube Goldberg-inspired animation and a genuine sense of joy makes the film equally meaningful for children and adults.
Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is the original hand-me-down kid, forced to make do with used body parts. You see, reproduction here is a bit different. When robot mommies go into labour, it really is labour; over 12 hours of screwing, nailing and banging to make a child.
Rodney doesn't mind having to get things second-hand, but he does yearn to be an inventor like his hero, Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), who's made the "you can shine no matter what you're made of" adage his credo. Ever the devoted son, Rodney also hopes to make things better for his hard-working dishwasher dad (Stanley Tucci). The quality of the imagery and the writing is such that you can actually see the special bond between the two. When Rodney's latest creation fails and almost gets Pop fired, Rodney knows its time to follow his dream to the big city - and that's where the story really begins.
Picture a cross between Oz, New York and an exploding LEGO collection and you'll get some idea of the world these artists have created. Making perhaps the best case for CGI on film, the animators treat us to a sequence on the city's transportation system that defies logic and yet is somehow perfectly rendered. It's here that Rodney meets Fender (Robin Williams, on a leash, but just barely) and a host of other kooky characters. You gotta hand it to the filmmakers for rounding up Halle Berry, Paul Giamatti, Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes and Jennifer Coolidge and using them perfectly. Williams is free to do his shtick, but they get their moments, too.
But those are just the good guys. Meet the villains, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who has mysteriously taken over Bigweld industries, and his mama, Gasket (Jim Broadbent, apparently channelling Harvey Fierstein), who owns the chop shop, aka robot hell.
Now that Bigweld is gone, they're making poor robots obsolete by discontinuing their body parts, thus requiring expensive regular upgrades. Their pithy slogan says it all: "Why be you, when you can be new?"
The Ice Age animation team has outdone itself, making a movie all ages can enjoy, but writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel work equally hard, even with kid-flick standards like the fart joke. Look, inventing Robots is impressive, but reinventing the wheel on flatulence - now, that takes skill.