Director    Chris Wedge
Starring    Ewan McGregor, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks
3 stars


24th March 2005

Everything has its place. There's a hierarchy at work here people. This is how it goes: Cowboys < Pirates < Ninjas < Robots < Monkeys. It's long been written that this is the order of the known universe; the rules shall never be broken and never questioned. You can probably name a thousand cowboy films, likewise pirate pictures, ninja flicks and even monkey movies - I'll happily take on any bastard who disses Every Which Way But Loose in a bareknuckle fist fight on hot coals. But how many robot movies can you name? The only ones that come to mind are Metropolis (good), Short Circuit (fucking brilliant) and Bicentennial Man (about as funny as the holocaust), so there's certainly room for one more - enter the outlandishly named Robots, yet another CG adventure jostling for attention amongst the sudden influx of computer-generated pictures flooding our screens.

Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is a young robot, born the son of a dishwasher but destined to be a truly great inventor. Urged to follow his dreams by his father, he sets off for Robot City to meet his inspirational figure, the rotund genius Bigweld (Mel Brooks), hoping that his Wonderbot invention will see his aspirations fulfilled. But this is the big city, and hopes and dreams are in scarce supply. While Bigweld is mysteriously absent, his company is run by hothead Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) who wants to change the motto 'You can shine no matter what you're made of' to 'Why be you when you can be new?' Under the guidance of his ghastly motherbot, Ratchet aims to sweep the streets clean of outdated robots and force everyone to fork out for costly upgrades. Rodney teams up with a bunch of ragtag robots to rebel against this terrible tyranny, including Fender (Robin Williams) and his motley bunch of buddies.

Firstly, you can't begin to review a movie like Robots (he says halfway through the review) without appreciating the sheer effort that has clearly gone into its creation. It just so happens that I recently watched The Incredibles on DVD (aren't hyperlinks brilliant) and the production values on that blew me away, but when you consider that everything that the Pixar boys rendered actually exists in the real world, at least they had something to work from. In Robots, everything has been made from scratch. Built from the ground up by the animators I can't be bothered to look up (but hey, they made Ice Age, if you haven't already got sick of noticing that on the posters), Robot City is truly a smorgasbord for the synapses - a whole civilization has been birthed, including its inhabitants, buildings and a transportation system that makes you long for the monotony of the M4. Story, characters and gags aside, it's as an impressive fictional world as you're likely to see for a while.

Robots is a lot of fun, dare I say it, for all the family. Shit, I think I just turned into Johnny Vaughan. Still, it happens to be true - while the story might be as tawdry as you'd expect from a kids film (spoilers: they have crazy adventures and no one dies) there's plenty of smart one-liners and deft sight gags that should raise a few chuckles from those of us less inclined to buy the related Happy Meals. Robin Williams, returning to animation after his fantastic turn in Aladdin, is on amazing form once more - his hyperactive delivery is a breath of fresh air after some of the crappy voiceovers in Shark Tale and the Shreks - the hapless Fender is definitely the pick of the characters. A lot of Robots' humour comes from the 'dead cert' school of comedy - farting, people falling over and men dressed as women - but every time Williams is on screen, his sheer energy is enough to make you smile. You suspect the animators tasked with mapping his movements to the screen had more than a few late nights keeping up with him.

Despite being, at times, very funny, Robots still somehow feels incomplete, partly due to a few wishy-washy characters that aren't given anything particularly exciting to do. Bigweld is absent for a large part of the movie and it's never quite explained why - apparently he got a bit depressed and let a dickwad take over his company. Way to go. The inclusion of Halle Berry's corporate robot Cappy is a mystery to me, and it's never explained whether she's attracted to Rodney or not, she just kind of... saves him a lot. I'm sure that it's nothing to do with the idea of an inter-racial robot relationship. Pretty sure, anyway. Scanning down the cast list on IMDB, there's real big names onboard that didn't even register - Jim Broadbent, Paul Giamatti and Stanley Tucci are all lost under a big rusty pile of scrap. And don't even get me started on the trend of 'nationalising' this kind of flick - Terry Wogan and Brian McFadden should never, ever appear in movies. Ever.

A stunning treat for the eyes and a definite chucklefest, then, but not quite in the same league as the Pixars of this world in the storyline department. The only question that remains now is who's got the balls to do a CG monkey movie? You know it makes sense, Hollywood. It is the order of all things.

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