Somebody named Lee Thomas in Detroit called Robots “a masterpiece.” On what critical planet is he living, I wonder? Because on this one, CG animated movies that are slightly better than Shark Tale and glaringly inferior to The Incredibles aren’t categorized as “masterpieces.” They’re categorized as “possibly recommendable if there isn’t anything better (i/e anything from Pixar) playing.”
Robots is brought to you, complete with bland celebrity voice work, by the animation department of 20th Century Fox, which is also responsible for 2002’s lukewarm prehistoric tale Ice Age.
Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Stanley Tucci, Dianne Wiest, Drew Carrey, Amanda Bynes, Jamie Kennedy, Paul Giamatti, Greg Kinnear, D.L. Hughley, Robin Williams, and Jennifer Coolidge all lend their voices to the nuts-andbolts fantasy world inhabited only by mechanical bots.
And yet Wiest is the only one whose voice stands out. I’d say the same for Williams and Brooks, but they’ve done so much of this kind of thing, they’re starting to blend. It’s a shame.
As for McGregor, Berry, and the rest, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head which characters they voiced. I probably couldn’t even tell you if I watched the movie a few more times. I’m going to have to look it up. That’s bad. In animation, distinctive and expressive voices are critical.
Wiest’s voice is lent to two characters — the mother of the main character, Rodney; and a kind eccentric old robot who takes in homeless/outcast robots. She does her best work with the latter character, but even as Rodney’s mother, Mrs. Copperbottom, she turns in a better voiceover than anyone.
Rodney (Ewan McGregor), the son of a dishwasher (Stanley Tucci) and a homemaker (Wiest), has grown weary of wearing used parts. He takes his talent for inventing to Robot City in an attempt to make something of himself. There, he plans to introduce himself to his hero Bigweld (Brooks), a bigshot inventor/ businessman.
Rodney is disheartened to find that Bigweld’s empire has been taken over by a corporate shiny-pants tyrant named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). And Bigweld is nowhere to be found. With the help of a rusty bunch of outmodes led by Fender (Williams), and a lovely robot named Cappy (Berry), Rodney must expose a web of ugly corporate lies in order to make his dreams come true.
Robots is fine to watch, but the visuals are far from the dazzling fare we witnessed in Finding Nemo. And its humor doesn’t come close to the wickedly funny barbs of Shrek 2.
It just keeps going back to the low-hanging fruit — the crude humor that any 10-year-old will laugh at in spite of its inherently unfunny quality.
And back to my original complaint: at least for the main character, Rodney, couldn’t they have come up with somebody less boring and expressively underdeveloped as McGregor?
Opens tomorrow. Rated PG for some suggestive humor and language. Running time: 90 minutes.