Thursday, March 17, 2005

Robots: less than meets the eye
Review by Sombrero Grande

What if The Incredibles had had fart jokes? Think about that for a moment. Think of the waste it would have been. Robots could have been a much better film; it could have been a contender, but the physics-bending novelty of flatulating machines coupled with a bafflingly frequent preoccupation with butts keeps Robots out of the big leagues. Seriously, the film obsesses with fannies, keisters and behinds so much I was surprised to see Sir Mix-A-Lot didn’t have a hand in writing this.

I really wish Robots hadn’t set out to be a comedy. For every honest laugh, there’re at least a dozen really hard tries that result in little more than eye rolls. When Robots isn’t trying to be funny, it’s actually quite good and a lot of fun. As a straightforward adventure story it could have been fantastic. It was almost there, folks. But it had to stoop. As soon as the gas starts passing like at a Blazing Saddles cookout, there’s no mistaking that the film is aiming low. The result: your kids’ll probably dig Robots, but you’ll likely be disappointed by what could have been a much more enjoyable experience all around. One scene has the main robot characters competing to see who can make the rudest noises with their armpits. A character named Aunt Fanny wins the contest as the other robots decry, “no, you’re supposed to use your armpit!”

The story concerns a young, idealistic robot named Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) who’s got his mechanical heart set on being an inventor. He travels to the big city where he hopes that Bigweld (Mel Brooks), owner of the benevolent company that manufactures all robot parts, will welcome him and his new dishwashing invention. Trouble is, once he gets there, Bigweld is gone and in his place is a new boss with different plans--plans to stop manufacturing cheap, individual parts all together. Instead, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) sees more profits in making only expensive upgrade bodies so every robot can stop looking like scrap and start looking like the same, sleek, new model. Those who can’t afford the expensive upgrades will all be scrapped, which is good news for Ratchet’s mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent), who works him like a puppet in order to boost her own underground scrap business.

The voice talent is all quite good and nearly everyone is largely invisible in their roles, with the obvious exception of Robin Williams who still plays the same basic cartoon version of himself. Largely, though, DreamWorks could take a lesson from Blue Sky Studios and see how dealing with famous people doing voice over work can help a film instead of date it.

If you’re just looking for eye candy, Robots is the best, top-shelf stuff out there right now. Literally every inch of screen shows a stunning amount of visual inventiveness. The film’s world, made up entirely of robots, is marvelous to simply gawk at. The film’s visual style has a great vintage feel to it. If only that same amount of inventiveness had been poured into the gags…wow. It’s really quite tragic to see all the technology, creativity, time and effort that obviously went into this film, just to tell a bunch of fart and butt jokes.

The popularity of movies like The Incredibles proves that you don’t have to stoop and pander to have a successful film and one that can appeal to multiple generations. But, hey, then again it’s easier just to let the flatulence fly and ensure that you’ll be the talk of the school playground for a few days. Let’s hope Blue Sky Studios can mature for their next cinematic endeavor and craft something that could become a classic. I can see a lot of potential in them, they just have to reach for the brass ring instead of a whoopee cushion next time.


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