Although they're occasionally portrayed in a positive light in fiction -- think of R2D2 and C3PO -- most robots are not and get the short shrift when it comes to their portrayal, especially in the movies. That's usually because such films are cautionary tales showing the technological perils of what may come.
Things aren't much different in "Robots," the latest computer animated comedy from director Chris Wedge who cut his genre teeth on the prehistoric comedy, "Ice Age." In this clever, amusing and fairly entertaining offering that's co-directed by Carlos Saldanha (who also co-directed "Ice Age"), some bad robots succumb to greed and want the rest of their world's robots to upgrade to new, rather than repair parts or else get tossed into the recycle bin.
As written by David Lindsay-Abaire (making his debut) and Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel ("Parenthood," the "City Slickers" films), this is nothing but a world filled with robots -- no explanation why or word of what may have happened to the humans that presumably built them -- that, like in most any other animated film, act in human fashions despite their mechanical makeup. The cautionary tale is less that of what may occur should robots take over (unless that is the point).
Instead, it's more of a David vs. Goliath sort of tale featuring the fish-out-of-water individual standing up to an established and all-powerful corporation. In this case, that would seem to be the Microsofts and other software/hardware manufacturers of the world who retire their products after a given amount of time and force users to buy their upgrades and latest offerings.
That might make the film sound much heavier than it really is -- after all, it's a comedy and often a rather funny one at that. The screenwriters are obviously of or at least tapping into the baby boomer generation who will enjoy reliving parts of their childhood through the various jokes, gags and visual references on display here.
They've also populated the film with about every robot, machine or mechanical part or phrase you can imagine including, yes, even the Tin Man. The result is a film that's bursting at the seams with jokes, cultural references and more that pretty much necessitate repeat viewings to make sure you catch the plethora of such material that zips by on the screen.
Like the best films of the genre, the filmmakers have made sure to enlist humor that plays equally well to kids and adults alike. Thus, for every requisite fart joke (yes, they manage to get that in despite the absence of any traditional, carbon-based digestive systems), there's something that will tickle most any adult's funny bone or remind them of some toy they had as a kid.
Visually, it's just as much of a feast -- colorful and highly detailed -- with a fast pace sure to keep everyone interested. Vocal talent is solid, with a huge cast voicing the various bots, including from the likes of Halle Berry ("Catwoman," "Die Another Day"), Greg Kinnear ("Godsend," "Stuck on You"), Mel Brooks ("Spaceballs," "History of the World, Part I"), Drew Carey (TV's "The Drew Carey Show") and Jim Broadbent ("Nicholas Nickleby," "Topsy-Turvy"), among others. As the lead, Ewan McGregor ("Down With Love," the latest "Star Wars" films) may remind some viewers of his young man travel from home character in "Big Fish."
The big attraction, however, will likely be Robin Williams ("Insomnia," "Mrs. Doubtfire") who voices his first animated character since "Mulan" and delivers his rapid-fire wit, impressions and more. He thankfully doesn't overwhelm the other characters or the film in general -- something I worried about -- and does generate some decent laughs.
Although the film does manage to make us forget it's telling us a story about robots (which is a good thing), the one thing it's missing is the emotional connection. While all of the characters have identifiable characteristics, they and/or the script are missing that intangible element that makes one become emotionally involved and attached to them.
While we still root for Rodney Copperbottom to defeat the film's villain and his more evil mom, that's more by default than clever or efficient design. Don't get me wrong. The storytelling is solid if not terribly complicated in terms of the underlying, driving plot, and the film isn't cold or off-putting in such regards.
Yet, had it possessed that extra something special that made the likes of "Finding Nemo" and other such films so fabulous, this could have been one of the classics of the genre. That said, it's still fun to watch. Whether it's the literal meaning of "making" babies (some assembly required) and all of the related material (such as finding the volume control on a crying baby) or all of the childhood cultural references, the film's plethora of jokes, gags and wonderfully detailed visuals make this an entertaining and enjoyable experience.