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With: (voices) Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams, Mel Brooks, Greg Kinnear, Drew Carey, Dan Hedaya, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Broadbent, D.L. Hughley, Jamie Kennedy, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Harland Williams, Dianne Wiest, Sofia Vergara, Carson Daly, Conan O'Brien
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, based on a story by Jim McClain, Ron Mita
Directed by: Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
MPAA Rating: PG for some brief language and suggestive humor
Running Time: 91
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Robots (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Made on an Assembly Line

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

With its expensive but largely characterless voice cast and an off-the-shelf follow-your-dreams plot retooled for a world populated by wacky sentient machines, the computer-animated Robots is lucky to have spectacular production design and one or two curious mechanical stars to hold the interest of anyone over age 10.

Created by Blue Sky Studios and director Chris Wedge -- the gang behind 2002's Ice Age -- the story concerns young robot Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a small-town dreamer made from well-worn, hand-me-down parts maintained by his dishwasher dad. He's a hopeful, wide-eyed inventor who travels to the mega-opolis Robot City hoping to sell some of his scrap-metal gadgets to Bigweld Industries, apparently the monopoly supplier of all things robotic in this world.

The company was once run by the altruistic and welcoming Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), who for no adequately explored reason has withdrawn from the company he loved and let it be taken over by a greedy, brushed-steel corporate suit named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). This villain has decided to discontinue all replacement parts Bigweld has always made for the robot population -- all part of a sinister plan to scrap and melt down any "outmodes" who can't afford full-body upgrades.

Of course, Rodney and a goofball group of misfits he's befriended rise to the occasion right on cue, find Bigweld and restore his joie de vivre, and decide take on this evil empire.

Class warfare themes and allusions to present-day politics aside, Robots doesn't offer much narrative creativity, but it's never at a loss for a good robot pun ("making a baby" and "got your nose" take on whole new meanings) and visually it's nothing short of fantastic. The film's production designer is William Joyce, creator of the robot kiddie cartoons and books "Rolie Polie Olie," who conceives a frenzied cogs-and-sprockets world chock full of wind-up cars and Rube Goldberg devices.

The characters are equally creative -- at least in the way they look. Rodney's slightly battered chassis, spring-coil torso, mismatched arms, hints of rust and a crooked head-fin flourish (which attaches to his bolt of a nose) provide far more personality than McGregor's voice. Why hire a Scotsman to voice a cartoon character, then make him use a flattened, lackluster American accent?

Rodney's scam-artist mentor named Fender fares a little better, given the amusing appearance of a worn-out water-well pump crossed with a cheap car jack, and the wacky, unmistakable voice of Robin Williams. With Brooks' voice and a design like a giant ball bearing with a head, Bigweld is memorable too. But a lot of money was wasted hiring name actors with nondescript voices (Greg Kinnear, Halle Berry, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Drew Carey) to fill out the cast.

Despite its routine, connect-the-dots plot and unengaging vocal performances, the movie's sense of humor keeps it running like a well-oiled machine. If nothing else, the comical nods to dozens of other films (Star Wars, Braveheart, Desperado, Rollerball, Scarface, 2001, Bottle Rocket and Singin' in the Rain among others) are enough to keep adults amused for 91 minutes.

It's just a shame Wedge and his screenwriters couldn't be bothered with concocting a story as unique as the world in which their picture takes place.