By Steve Biodrowski
This computer-animated effort from the makers of ICE AGE is a moderately amusing but hardly outstanding piece of family entertainment that lacks the wit and imagination of similar CGI efforts from Pixar (e.g., TOY STORY and MONSTER, INC). The story is serviceable enough, if a bit generic: Rodney Copperbottom, a young robot (voiced by Ewan McGregor), goes to the big city to sell an invention to his idol Bigweld (voiced by Mel Brooks), but he discovers that Bigweld has been replaced as head of his company, and the new robot in charge plans to stop making spare parts so that robots will be forced to buy expensive new upgrades. With assistance from his new friends in the city, including Bigweld, Rodney, of course, defeats the bad guys.
The simple story is padded out with an overabundance of supposedly show-stopping set pieces, but most of them fall flat. In fact, much of what appears on screen seems to be the result of technical innovation rather than script development: it’s now possible with CGI to show thousands of ball bearings rolling around the ground, so a scene is concocted to do just that, in the hope of creating some silent-movie-style slapstick, but the result falls flat. Sadly, most of the other big scenes are equally lacking in inspiration.
Despite the big name cast, the voices are mostly non-descript. Robin Williams is recognizable, but he comes across more annoying than funny. Mel Brooks brings some personality to his role as Bigweld, and Paul Giametti does a good job with his bit part as Tim the Gate Guard (who sounds rather like Mickey Mouse gone bad).
The graphics are fairly elaborate but not always very impressive, thanks to camerawork that makes everything whiz by without giving viewers a chance to appreciate it. Much of the design seems inspired by a ‘50s era “cars-of-the-future” type of aesthetic, lending an odd but pleasantly retro feel to this robot world.
Overall, the film is not bad, but not nearly as clever as it should have been, at times even descending into unnecessarily crude humor. You would think a film about non-organic life forms would have no way of including scatological humor (including a—you should pardon the expression—long-winded gag about passing gas). You would be wrong.
Sadly, the highlight of the movie is a short subject that precedes that the main feature, in which we see the goofy creature from ICE AGE is once again seen pursuing his beloved acorn: this tiny scene is funnier than anything that follows in ROBOTS.