Robots review by The Grim Ringler

It’s weird, going to a Sneak Preview, in caps ‘cause it’s important and such. I haven’t been to one since I saw the movie Death Machine years ago and so far, I can see why I never bother. It’s interesting though as they make a big deal about NO CAMERAS, and even purport to check you, and run a wand over you but the hell of it is, it’s mostly an honor system. My friend had a camera, and a cam phone – both just ‘cause she has a purse and keeps lots of stuff in it – and she got in with no problem after a little bit of moving things in the purse around. But when the most exciting experience you take from a movie is being wanded and a trailer – a WICKED trailer for Star Wars Ep III – then you know you’re in for a long night. Though before I review the film I say this – whatever I thought of it, a lot of families will love this movie and kids will eat it up. Me, not so much.

Robots tells the tale of Rodney, the son of a blue collar robot working as a dishwasher in a little town. Rodney leads an ordinary, aimless childhood until the day that he sees the television program for Big Weld (portrayed as a sort of Walt Disney, oddly enough), a big hearted inventor with an open mind and open heart who encourages any and all inventors to come to the big city and see him about their ideas. Rodney, coming from a family unable to provide new parts for him, sees this as his chance to finally shine, a chance to become something special. The young man takes to inventing things easily and with patience and hard work, manages to create something he thinks will be helpful to not just his father but also the world at large. After a mishap with his new invention at his father’s work, Rodney realizes that it’s time that he strikes out on his own. He has a dream and if he doesn’t follow it, he’ll regret it, just as his father regrets not following his own passion as a young man. Rodney arrives in the big city with a heart full of hope and a head full of dreams but soon realizes that things are not as they had seemed. The famed gates to Big Weld’s factory are NOT open, as he had promised television viewers they would be, and he is told that there is no work for inventors anymore. Discouraged but unfazed, Rodney uses his invention, a sentient gadget that seems to be able to do a little of everything, to sneak his way into the factory via the board room’s window but finds that Big Weld is no longer in charge of the company and is quickly given the boot. The bot in charge of things is an egotistical mama’s boy named Ratchet who has changed a long held policy at Big Weld’s company where they make spare parts so robots can upgrade themselves. No longer. Ratchet has done away with spare parts and the company will only manufacture sleeker, sexier, and far more expensive robot bodies and for those who cannot afford them, well, the chop shop awaits. The chop shop being run naturally by Ratchet’s mother, who plans on profiting from all the robots that will be pulled off the streets by the street cleaners and scrapped. Rodney though is crushed. He had hoped of coming to the big city and making a name for himself, and making his father proud. But now he has nothing. Nothing that is until he is able to make some new friends who are also three steps from the scrap heap. But just as he is about at his lowest and ready to give up though Rodney finds a place for himself – repairing robots that are falling apart and have no spare parts to keep themselves together. Finally things are starting to go his way. But something still isn’t right. Big Weld’s company is being turned into something its creator never intended and Rodney wants to know why, and where the big guy is. With the help of one of his employees, a sassy bot named Cappy (?), Rodney manages to get inside Weld’s home and finds not the hero of his youth but a bitter, angry robot who has lost his company, and has forfeited his dreams. Even though his idol has given up though, Rodney refuses to let Ratchet and his mother win, so he gathers his misfit friends together and decides it’s time to fight back.

While I can’t say I got a lot of enjoyment out of the film, Robots is gorgeous to behold. The computer animation is some of the best you will see for a while and rivals the things Pixar is doing. The hell of it is that what this film works best as is a tech demo to show off some beautiful animation. What the filmmakers seem to have done is built the film from the many gags – and there are some real groaners here, though there are a few clever ones as well – where Pixar builds from the story outward. That’s the thing that no one is getting right these days save maybe for Shrek, though those are not really characters as much as caricatures. Too many animated films feel as if they are made with the merchandising, and kids in mind first and the story and Art last. The ideas here are solid – to follow your dreams, to fight the corporate machine, and to fight for the downtrodden, ideals about as good as you can ask for – but they are buried under so many gags that you want to barf. And the heck of it is that it feels like the filmmakers were trying too hard to appease adults as well, sliding sly but pretty crude humor into the film that just doesn’t really belong – in the opening moments of the film, when Rodney is being built, there is a part leftover, the mother asks about it, the father checks to make sure they wanted a boy, then he tells his new son it will only hurt for a second and then there’s a scream. Um…yeah. These kinds of jokes didn’t make the film ring louder in my heart but rather made me yearn for an adult theme or character. Something honest and genuine. It seems though that the Shrek school of animated films is taking the day, and not the Pixar way to do things. Robots abounds with fart, elimination, sex, and a number of other lower jokes that can elicit a laugh or two but that seem more to pander to the easiest kinds of laughs, just as many horror movies rely on ‘jump-scares’ to make their movies scary. The voice acting is fine but haven’t we seen, or in this case heard Robin Williams BEING Robin Williams before? Halle Barry gets another meaningless part she sleeps through, and poor Ewan McGregor, who seems to loathe his Star Wars career, has to fake an American accent (why is everything American, good grief, they are robots, why can’t they have accents?) AND listen to Williams slaughter his native language for a gag. UGH! The villain is a paper doll, his mother, the real villain, is no better, having no real reason to be evil other than the fact that she CAN be and dammit, why does the hero always have to get with the generically pretty girl. I was curious because at first the film seems to want to set Rodney up with Fender (Williams)’s sister, Piper, who has spunk, but veers off and hooks Rod up with bland but pretty Cappy. Yay.

This film will make loads of money. Lots of people will love it. Kids will adore it. Merch will be sold. But me, I am awfully disappointed. After seeing The Incredibles again I feel sad that animated films made outside of Pixar studios are just not rising to the challenge. They are making the same merchandise driven gag-fests they always have (save for some Disney classics that do seem to have a heart, if not a brain) been. I look at it this way, if you liked to read comic books and just read stuff like Archie and Jughead, and it made you happy, then swell. But some of us like the art of comic books but not how some are realized until we found books like Watchmen and realized how beautiful the art of comics could be. Robots isn’t bad at all. There are some fun moments, the animation is astounding, and the heart is in the right place, but sadly there is no brain on board here and you have to settle with the simple pleasure of the gag, which for some will prove not to be enough anymore. The bar has been raised, and until someone comes around that rises to the challenge (and I mean American animation wholly here as Anime has been tackling dark, adult subjects for decades), Pixar has the monopoly on heartfelt crowd-pleasers that can make you feel the entire spectrum of emotions and make you forget you are watching fast moving computer pixels.


5 out of 10 Jackasses
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