Robots (2005)
Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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In a land inhabited only by robots, Rodney Copperbottom, an aspiring young inventor from a poor family, decides to travel to Robot City to meet his hero, Bigweld, a charismatic corporate baron and self-promoting host of a self-help show. Unfortunately, upon arriving at his destination, Rodney discovers that Bigweld is missing and that his company has been taken over by the slick and vicious Ratchet, who plans to stop making the replacement parts upon which countless impoverished robots depend to survive. Joining up with a quirky group of broken down automatons, including Fender, a less than successful street hustler, as well as with Cappy, a dissenting and sexy member of Ratchet's own board, Rodney sets out to find Bigweld, defeat Ratchet and his evil mother, Madame Gasket, and bring hope to Robot City.

While the story Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha tell in their computer animated film Robots is predictable and its characters are hackneyed, the movie is often so delightful to look at that it is worth watching.

There is, in fact, hardly a moment of the film that is not visually captivating. Robot City, for instance, with its vast, colorful, and ornate metallic buildings that resemble the workings of a watch and its wonderfully weird and inordinately complicated transportation system, that was obviously inspired by Rube Goldberg's bizarre contraptions, is absolutely mesmerizing. Some of the robots living in this peculiar landscape are also well conceived. Bigweld is thus an enormous ball with a turtle-like head. Madame Gasket is a monstrous, fanged and clawed creature who wears a hat like that of a queen from a deck of cards. Ratchet is a sleek, silver, and coldly threatening predator, and the impoverished robots Rodney befriends look as though they have been assembled out of a variety of household items and pieces of rubbish. A few of the characters, however, including Rodney himself, have been made a little too cute and may irk those viewers who are immune to excesses of adorableness.

Sadly, the story told about these individuals is never particularly intriguing. It is filled with so many clichés common to children's films that it can actually be grating. The viewer is, for example, shown how Rodney has been raised by a kindly father who works as a dishwasher in a greasy diner for a foul tempered boss, how he desires more not only for himself but also for his parents, and how, after a little loving hesitation, these two support their boy's decision to leave home and meet his hero. The subsequent troubles that arise because of Ratchet's usurpation of Bigweld's position and Rodney's efforts to defeat that scoundrel are no better developed than are the events of the protagonist's childhood. They are, in truth, so foreseeable that they are almost entirely unengaging.

The film's characters, regrettably, are even more distasteful than is this bromidic narrative. Rodney is a plucky, brave, and annoying young innocent. Ratchet is a dishonest, self-serving fiend. Fender is a conniving but ultimately decent individual, and Bigweld is the kind of good-hearted capitalist nobody except the most ardent rural conservative believes exists anymore. Not one of them, nor any of the film's countless other stereotyped characters, is likely to enthrall the viewer even for the briefest of moments.

While it is hardly a triumph, Robots is sufficiently visually appealing to hold the viewer's interest throughout its duration. He may never be caught up in the story he is being told or find himself immersed in the lives of its characters, but he will never be bored either.

Review by Keith Allen

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