Computer animated feature films have taken Hollywood by storm in the last ten years. Shrek 2 was last year's top grossing film with a whopping $430 million dollars at the North American box office. 20th Century Fox was the last of the big studios to jump into the computer animation game. They saw the writing on the wall and weren't going to miss out on anything that lucrative. Their first film was the surprisingly warm and funny Ice Age. That proved to be a great success and now the pipeline is filled with upcoming projects. Robots is an extremely formulaic second effort. It looks good, but lacks the humor and sentiment that made Ice Age so entertaining. The entire film seems to be written from a manual on how to make animated movies, right down to the dance number at the end. The dialogue is aimed directly at the adult audience with many double entendres. It's funny at times, but completely over the heads of most children. That was probably the goal, but Robots is foremost a kids film and should have concentrated more on its target audience.
The story begins with the birth of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor). His parents (Stanley Tucci and Diane Wiest) literally make the baby in one of the film's best gags. Rodney grows up poor, but dreams of being a great inventor. He watches the television show of Big Weld (Mel Brooks), the greatest robot of all. Big Weld owns the company that makes the parts for all robots and encourages them to bring him new inventions. Rodney finally makes something worthwhile and sets out for Robot City to meet Big Weld. His dreams come crashing down when he learns that Big Weld's company is being run by Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), an evil robot motivated by profit. Ratchet plans to stop making parts, forcing all robots to buy his expensive upgrades. Those who can't afford them will be chopped up as scrap metal. Rodney, along with a motley crew of Robot City misfits (Robin Williams, Halle Berry, and Amanda Bynes), try to stop Ratchet and put Big Weld back in charge.
The voice-over talent for Robots is a who's who of A-list Hollywood celebrities. Voice-over work was shunned for years by movie stars until it became the "in" thing to do after the success of Shrek. Unfortunately, famous voices don't guarantee a good movie. Ewan McGregor and Halle Berry are relatively benign as the stars of the film. The real draw is supposed to be Robin Williams. This was his first voice-over performance since he ran with it to glory in Aladdin. His turn as the Genie is one of the most memorable and garnered him a special award from the Academy. William's voices Fender, Rodney's best friend and the supposed comic foil in Robots. He gets some laughs, but his shtick wears painfully thin. You can tell it's mostly improvised with a lot of gags mercilessly drawn out. That being said, I think the fault is with the character. Fender isn't nearly as interesting as the Genie. He's one dimensional and could have easily been cut out of the story. Robin Williams is one of the greatest improv talents, but he just didn't have a lot to work with here.
Robots true success lies in the hands of the animators. They took a mediocre script and made it look spectacular. It's very creative. I found the variety of robots to be tremendously entertaining. The animators had a tricky job here. They had to make the robots look good while giving them human features. That way you could read the expressions on their faces. That's not an easy feat and they do a banner job humanizing the robots. This is in addition to all the great visual effects work in the various levels of Robot City. They stock every nook and cranny with something interesting to see. The animators are the saving grace of Robots. Their names should appear before the celebrity voice-overs.
Robots will undoubtedly be a huge hit this weekend. It'll make a fortune, but isn't nearly as good as the recent crop of animated films. Hopefully this is just a small step backward for Fox animation. Ice Age was a good start. They need to follow its example and start with a good script before anything else.