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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 19.19%
Pretty Bad: 16.16%
Total Crap: 1.01%

8 reviews, 51 user ratings

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by Jason Whyte

"If it only had a brain...."
2 stars

Towards the end of the newly computer-animated “Robots”, one of the main characters finds himself in a pickle. He’s surrounded. What will he do? He decides to fight his way out of it using his own style of machismo. Suddenly, he thinks of something, and just as he makes his move…”Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears blasts on the soundtrack as the character dances to the Britney and saves the situation. Ho, ho…hum.

This is a problem that has been facing the computer animation genre over the past couple of years. John Lassiter birthed “Toy Story” to audiences in 1995 placing computer animation on the map, and it was a major success, so various studios also wanted in on the action. The next couple of years have birthed some truly outstanding films in the medium, from “A Bug’s Life” to Lassiter’s own sequel to “Toy Story”, which many even felt was better. Many were connecting with these stories that had a delicate balance of humour that appealed to adults and children.

But somewhere, something went wrong. A formula in the computer animated film birthed in the form of whatever setting or world was being created. Its inhabitants, no matter what species, had to act in human ways but the punch-line is that they’re entities like fish (“Shark Tale”), fractured fairy tale characters (the “Shrek” films) or arctic creatures (“Ice Age”) as we see life from their perspective, with cultural references abound. Gee, isn’t it funny that they’re acting like We Humans?

The reference-filled genre of computer animated films has simply got to go. I am tired of this new-wave of filmmakers picking a subject and then throwing human jokes into it in the form of cultural references that will only appear useless and dated in a few years. Yes, it was amusing in “Finding Nemo” where we visited the underwater seascape, but that was because its material wasn’t at the level of the repugnant “Shark Tale”, where the Hot New Soundtrack blasted as fish did human-y things like a Shark Wash set to the tune of the theme from “Car Wash.” Really, is that the best they can do?

“Robots” is not only guilty of this, but in its simplistic story as well. A young robot named Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is born – or assembled, if you will -- in Rivet Town to two loving parents. He grows up fascinated with the world around him while his father remains a dishwasher at a greasy spoon (get it?) diner while never really going anywhere. (A dishwashing machine that looks like it could only hold a few plates is attached right to his body. Imagine fitting a pot in there.) As Rodney grows up, he discovers that he loves to invent and decides to move to Robot City to find work. As he arrives there, he quickly learns that an evil dictator has taken over a major robot manufacturer from the hands of an old-fashioned entrepreneur, and he wants to rid the world of old and dated robots. “Why be old when you can be new?” reads the slogan of the new plan.

At this point I should mention that I’ve really forgotten all of the names of the characters. That entrepreneur has a name, and so does the dictator, but I’d be damned to remember them. I could consult IMDB Pro and tell you the character that Halle Berry voices, a character who is an assistant at the robot plant who becomes somewhat of a love interest to Rodney, and also the assorted parts of a family led by Robin Williams’ voice who decide to become allies in Rodney’s journey; but they are mostly window dressing to the Rodney character, who has become a small hero to the old-and-dated robot crowd, where he can do a quick fix on any broken robot. What tools and spare parts will do!

And so on. The heavily promoted voice acting is awful, but what’s worse is that Fox has placated the advertising with shots of the actors reading their lines on one side of the screen while their character speaks on the other side. A few years ago, I was down in LA touring the DVD studio at 20th Century Fox and I spoke with Peter Staddon, who was one of the main people involved with producing DVD’s. I asked him if future box sets of “The Simpons” would feature a “behind-the-voice” documentary where we would see the likes of Dan Castellana and Julie Kavner as they read their characters. “Of course not,” Staddon remarked, “We would never want to break the illusion.”

We would never want to break the illusion. It’s simple, but I agree with this statement. The vocal acting is only a minor part of bringing out the story, and I would also add to this statement that it takes attention away from the thousands of computer artists, sound designers and editors that do a lot more work than Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Amanda Bynes and Robin Williams did in a few hours. And, besides the hyper-active Williams, we never really get an identity with any of the characters through the voice acting. It reminds me of when I interviewed Bill Plympton in February, and he remarked about this sudden trend: “[It’s unfortunate], because the films are really created by the animators, and they get no credit at all. The voice actors come in for an hour or two, and certainly they are big stars, but they do the quick work and get all the credit for it. That’s backwards, I think.”

“Robots” also falters slightly in the visual department. It is an eye-sore, the kind of visual film where the animators have spared no expense to make nearly every last shot brimming with visual activity. We quickly get that computer animation looks outstanding and much money and late nights of drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups were disposed in the name of making extra pillars of a building in a wide shot. By around the thirty-minute mark we’re already tired of the world and just want them to move on, but then we’re hit with one set piece after another, many of which tirelessly reference to other films from previous years (one does work however, with a faltering robot singing “Daisy”, an homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey”.) Which is not to say the entire film is awful to look at; there is an amazing sequence involving a complex transport through Robot City that is nearly impossible to describe, and a sequence involving a domino effect that makes little sense when you think about it, but this movie doesn’t ask you to go that far.

“The Incredibles” is being released onto DVD this week, and is a result of years of hard work by director Brad Bird, Pixar Studios and an endless team of creative and visual artists. It is not drowned in excessive reference humour, dated jokes and overbearing visual tricks. It looks great and it sounds great, but it also has a heart, a funny story and its laughs come out of the characters. Check that movie out (and no, I’m not a shill for Disney; trust me, it’s just a good movie), if for no other reason that a Britney Spears reference is nowhere to be found.

And if you can’t find a copy, I have two words for you: Hayao Miyazaki.

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originally posted: 03/16/05 17:11:20
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User Comments

4/06/12 SEAN DUTRA weak form the company unenjoyable 2 stars
2/28/12 Sariah It is really cute at the beginning and is visually pleasing but it lacks story 3 stars
1/01/09 Sully my 7 yr old loved it....I almost fell asleep.... 4 stars
6/26/08 Mario Good movie, but its nothing special. 4 stars
10/05/07 Jodi We love it. Not sure what people expect from a childs movie. It was funny & Visual! 5 stars
7/02/06 George Great looking movie with nothing inside 3 stars
5/06/06 dionwr Visually wonderful with forgettable story 3 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A Meh. Visually stunning, but soulless. 3 stars
5/02/06 David Cornelius see above review 3 stars
5/02/06 HBS-SH connelly's cans 3 stars
4/22/06 Jack Very Dissapointing 3 stars
3/28/06 Brian Meyer Another discharge from the Dreamworks CGI playbook 1 stars
1/06/06 JM Synth People seem to pre-judge this on the fact its not pixar, but this was actually pretty good 4 stars
12/24/05 Michele cute and funny 4 stars
10/16/05 Quigley the story is undeveloped, but williams was awesome and the movie visually stunning 3 stars
9/29/05 tatum Nice visuals, dry story 3 stars
9/27/05 rafi Great ! 5 stars
9/21/05 Jonathon Holmes Robin Willams saves this predictable screenplay 3 stars
9/08/05 Tom Burns A very imaginative and enjoyable film. Robin Williams was great. 4 stars
8/30/05 ES Better than Valiant but ultimately its no Shrek 3 stars
8/08/05 Del Not bad. 3 stars
7/03/05 Jay Norris Fabulously Family Fun! 5 stars
6/30/05 John Ay Enjoyable for adults and children. Robin Williams was a riot as always. 5 stars
6/11/05 Lucy Screw you this was hilarious. Everyone nailed it. Especially Mrs. Trumbly as Big Weld! 5 stars
5/03/05 Gary Good effects but ultimately not satisfying 4 stars
5/01/05 Alyson Loved the movie and feelings between the characters. Ewan made me love RodneyC. 5 stars
4/25/05 Quigley lacked heart and tons of laughs, but there were its moments. Robin Williams was awesome! 3 stars
4/17/05 iteachpc Very good movie; we enjoyed it! 4 stars
4/07/05 drfardook Its a corporate children's movie. Smoke a joint if you're over 11 and its ok. 3 stars
4/04/05 Smitty Saw it at IMAX - the plot is boring but the movie is visually stunning 4 stars
4/03/05 M if it wasnt for robin this would of been straight to video! 3 stars
4/02/05 irene diaz Not funny, my kid got bored and I did too 2 stars
3/26/05 Greg Ursic Oh Robin, where is the wit? A blah movie at best with little for adults or kids. 2 stars
3/25/05 Chance Had the potential to be really good 3 stars
3/25/05 malcontent clunkier than nemo, more eye-popping than monsters inc. 3 stars
3/25/05 KingNeutron Going to be a classic; but Brooks wasn't convincing. RWilliams was awesome as usual, tho. 5 stars
3/24/05 monnilove cute interesting , not a must see again though 4 stars
3/22/05 Kevin Rose Good kids movie. 3 stars
3/21/05 Elizabeth S Found it a bit boring -- characters aren't very engaging. 3 stars
3/19/05 Mark McLeod It's alright in IMAX but still not as good as a Pixar movie 3 stars
3/19/05 PAMELA HANSEN you have to be a kid at heart to like this movie laughed all night long i loved it 5 stars
3/18/05 felicia very humorous movie 4 stars
3/18/05 Tyrantis Would have been better if it had less characters and more character development. 3 stars
3/17/05 mott the drupal fun Fun FUN 5 stars
3/16/05 Andrea Really cute! Funny, too - altho lots of "bathroom" humor for the 12 year old set. 4 stars
3/15/05 Kenneth Silver Movie where animation wins over plot, could use a heart 3 stars
3/14/05 Jeff Anderson Visually eye-catching & sometimes funny, but a mean cruel edge & a weak script KILL IT!!!!! 2 stars
3/13/05 Ryan Nearly Nemo, slow starter... 3 stars
3/13/05 Melina Visually stunning, cute and funny 4 stars
3/12/05 brody not the greatest but good for kids, kind of silly 3 stars
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  11-Mar-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 27-Sep-2005



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