Passable anti-capitalist morality fable, and terrible vision of our inevitable future rulers.

Released in 2005, certified UK-U. Reviewed on 25 Mar 2005 by Scott Morris
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Sadly Robots, the latest from the studio responsible for the slightly underrated Ice Age goes to show the extents of mankind's doom and prepares our little ones for their future in a world ruled by the very robots created to serve us. Indeed Robots takes great care to avoid all mention of humanity, hoping to desensitise our children so that when the inevitable purging begins they have some comprehension of the new order our successors will instigate.

Gratifyingly, it seems they're going to repeat our mistakes to the extent that they need some sort of robotic Michael Moore to sort the BigEvilCorporations out. In the absence of that chubby pseudo-documentarian the proletariat of the harsh, seemingly unchecked capitalist nightmare perpetrated upon them by the Bigweld monolith must place their hopes in a young inventor, Rodney Copperbottom (the insidious voice of Ewan McGregor). Hailing from lower class suburbia as a dishwasher's son with a talent for inventing and a dream to follow, he heads off to the big robot city in search of Bigweld (the sinister voice of Mel Brooks). Going by the old video broadcasts, Bigweld is a friendly bucket of bolts in the business of helping his fellow robots and rewarding talented bots with job. Bigweld ain't in town no more.

His role as Great Leader has been usurped by Ratchet (the menacing voice of Greg Kinnear), a robot with no love for his fellow bot. Caring only for the almighty dollar, or whatever the robot equivalent would be, he wastes no time in slinging Copperbottom back onto the streets where he falls in with a small group of hapless, aging robots headed by Fender (the ominous, hyperactive tones of Robin Williams). Ratchet has the fiendish plan to scrap the sale of spare parts for older robots, forcing them into a costly cycle of marginal upgrades typically called the Microsoft model. Rodders decides to start jury-rigging repairs to older machines, Ratchet takes offence to this, Rodney decides to stand up to the BigEvilCorporation, conflict ensues. I'll keep the eventual winner a secret, so as not to spoil the vast non-surprise it brings.

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It achieves this in a vastly mediocre fashion. Robots just doesn't stop. Ever. It's relentless, throwing us from scene to scene like a bead of sweat in an aerobic instructor's gusset. Even when it's staying still, Robin Williams is doing his usual linguistic gymnastics so character development is taking a back seat to his 'zany' antics. Time to bust out the contractually obligated Pixar comparisons, I think. We cared about Finding Nemo because of the sublime scripting and performances. Albert Brooks was looking for his son, the fact he was a fish was nearly irrelevant. We cared about The Incredibles because they felt more like a coherent family unit than any number of sit-coms. We don't care about Copperbottom and Co because they don't really convince us they care about each other, at least in any greater fashion than it sets up the next action scene.

Which, we have to admit are done very well. Whensoever our metallic successors decide to take over they clearly kept copies of 1970's style magazines, creating a universe that any human able to keep a grip on their sanity past the crushing realisation of our lost race would think of as quaintly reminiscent of a more innocent time. At least, until the GuardaBots arrive to process this unwanted 'organic' into their component parts. Damn you, Cyberdyne. It didn't have to end this way.

It all looks very pretty and shiny, but not enough so as to warrant a recommendation on that alone. In moments, Robots is very good. Until it becomes apparent that Williams a) isn't going to ever shut up and b) is going to continue along an ever descending path of comedy value, he's amusing. For half an hour. Then teeth grindingly annoying. Paul Giamatti as the security guard of the Bigweld corporation does particularly well and gets some of the bigger laughs, despite having about the smallest role. Quite what Ewan McGregor and his attempt at a Yankee accent is doing here I'm not exactly sure. While he's clearly one of the greatest living Scotsmen, if you wanted an American accent for the lead role why not cast an American?

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So, it's amusing in places. The animation is very good. There's some decent sight gags mixed in with the crushingly terrible puns. The components for something pretty decent are quite obviously there. None of it hangs together quite right. It doesn't have the heart, for want of a less vague and meaningless term, of Pixar's output or even of Ice Age. I think it's because I'd expect more of the voice talent. Take a look at that little table on the end of this vapid rubbish. There's a goodly number of very good actors there, and also Amanda Bynes. It's a shame that they're mostly wasted over the course of the piece and largely overshadowed by Williams' desperate clowning. It's just not good enough, not to the admittedly stratospheric standard we expect of CG output lately.

I've no doubt the kids will love it. Kids love anything in a cinema, they haven't learned enough to distinguish between 'good' and merely 'decent' yet. This will be new and exciting to them, and between that and the sugar rush from the Coke and Pick 'n' Mix they'll be on cloud 9. Anyone over 12 had better lower their expectations, as while Robots certainly isn't a bad film it's so utterly unremarkable that thinking about is something of a chore, and writing about it a Herculean effort only attainable through beer abuse.

In conclusion, we're all doomed. We can hope that those who save ticket stubs from Robots may be granted some respite from the torture our future robotic overlords will inflict upon our weak flesh, but we can offer no guarantees. Ashes, this world shall become ashes and only the metal shall remain. This is a chilling, horrific vision of our future that our children would do well to learn from. If, like me, you've been trying to block the inevitable consequences of humanities actions from your mindscape Robots is a ghastly clarion call, a blast from the horn of Jericho that lays bare the terrifying truth. All is fear, all has been written, all will come to pass, all is doomed. Look about you. Find that which you love and cherish it for the brief time we have remaining to us. I am afraid.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Chris Wedge
Cast list:
Ewan McGregor (Rodney Copperbottom)
Robin Williams (Fender)
Halle Berry (Cappy)
Jim Broadbent (Madame Gasket)
Greg Kinnear (Ratchet)
Mel Brooks (Bigweld)
Amanda Bynes (Piper)
Drew Carey (Crank)
Jennifer Coolidge (Aunt Fanny)
Paul Giamatti (Tim the Gate Guard)