Monday, 19 May 2014

Ani-MAY-tion Month: Robots (2005)

Shiny, bright, easy entertainment, Robots is enjoyable enough, despite the fact that it's a couple of notches below any of the better animated movies of the last decade. It's lovely to look at, with design work that holds up well alongside any other title from the decade, but just doesn't have much else going for it.

Ewan McGregor voices Rodney Copperbottom, a robot who dreams of being a great inventor. He decides to head off on a quest to impress the mighty Bigweld (Mel Brooks), the big cheese in Robot City. Unfortunately, Bigweld is no longer in charge of his own company, which is now being managed by the greedy, devious Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). Rodney still wants to meet Bigweld, and his persistence might just lead to an upturn in the fortunes of the poorer residents of Robot City (including Fender, voiced by Robin Williams).

Co-directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, there's a wealth of detail and gorgeousness in every scene here. The same can't be said of the script, written by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel and David Lindsay-Abaire. It's not exactly poor, but it just feels a bit flat. Even the lines rattled off by Robin Williams feel lacking in energy, especially compared to his far superior turn in Aladdin (over two decades old, but still one of the standout performances in any animated work).

While the vocal cast all do well, it's a shame that there aren't a few more easily identifiable voices. Williams is obviously Williams, and Paul Giamatti is always welcome in any movie, but McGregor provides a bland, American accent, and Kinnear seems a bit tame in a role that you'd expect him to seize with his usual relish. Brooks, great director that he is, doesn't make much of an impression as Bigweld, while Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Stanley Tucci, Amanda Bynes, Dianne Wiest and the rest of the cast are in the same boat. They all do a perfectly good job at reading their lines, but they're left bereft of any real personality. Funnily enough, it's Jennifer Coolidge, in a supporting role, who ends up as one of the most memorable robots, thanks to her fun character actually matching her usual onscreen persona.

Robots has all of the parts in place, all of the nuts and bolts are on, but it just put a decent motor into the gorgeous exterior. Aesthetically pleasing it may be, and a lot of the visual gags are very enjoyable, but the fact that it never fires on all cylinders (pardon the pun) means that it's unlikely to be anyone's first choice when browsing the family entertainment section.


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