By Corey Birkhofer
Robots, USA, 2005
Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
Hello again, folks. Thanks for checking in. This time around, I’d like to switch gears from live-action and focus on a 20th Century Fox animation called Robots. Being a huge fan of all forms of animation, from old fashioned cell to state-of-the-art CG, the little kid inside of me still gets a little giddy every time I’m about to watch an animated film I haven’t seen yet. It was no different when I happened upon a film released in 2005 that I had heard very little about, called Robots. Now I’ll go and see just about anything Pixar puts out, but I’ve had mixed feelings when it comes to Fox’s animation attempts. I want to see Fox put out great works so Pixar has some competition to keep them on their toes, but unfortunately, Robots was definitely a movie that I did not get into.
The premise is simple: the Copperbottoms (voiced by Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest) are a happy robot couple who live in their peaceful world, filled with spare parts and resources in abundance. They decide to build their own robot son, Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) and raise him the best they can. Rodney is a good son with dreams of becoming an inventor like his hero Bigweld (voiced by Mel Brooks). Rodney’s inventions never seem to quite work out the way he intends, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to show his latest invention to Bigweld and become a famous inventor in the big city. So here we have a simple “small town boy wants to make it in the big city” premise that seems like a reasonable enough base from which to build. Despite its lack of originality, I was still intrigued enough to go along for the ride at this point. Unfortunately, things went downhill from here.
Once Rodney gets to the city, he heads straight for Bigweld’s headquarters. Problem is, Bigweld has gone missing and the company has been taken over by the story’s villain, Ratchet (voiced by Greg Kinnear). Eventually, we find out that the one really calling the shots is Ratchet’s mother, but nonetheless, Rodney is turned away by Ratchet, with his new objective to find the missing Bigweld. The large collector bots roaming the city vacuuming up all older model robots to have them melted for scrap threaten his efforts. These collector bots are a part of Ratchet’s ultimate scheme to stop wasting money repairing non-working robots, while forcing any robot who doesn’t want to get scrapped to pay for expensive upgrades.
So with Bigweld missing and Rodney’s dreams of becoming an inventor seemingly crushed, Rodney sees a need to be filled repairing the shunned away and destined-for-scrap-metal robots in the lower part of the city. This of course infuriates Ratchet, causing a conflict between he and Rodney, and sets up Rodney’s new goal for the rest of the film: stop Ratchet and restore peace to robot civilization. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a protagonist that wants something (even multiple somethings in some cases). But for me, Rodney has just plain too many goals, and they keep changing throughout the film. If you haven’t figured this out about me from my Vantage Point review, I am definitely of the “quality over quantity” camp, and keeping it simple and to the point always hits home for me.
Recapping what I’ve written thus far, I’ve come up with five goals for Rodney’s character: 1) Get to the big city; 2) Become a famous inventor; 3) Save his hero Bigweld; 4) Repair all the old robots; 5) Stop Ratchet and restore peace to robot civilization. Though his ultimate objective is arguably to “restore peace to robot civilization,” Robots muddles the power of this goal by taking too long to present it, slowing down the efficiency of the storytelling with a bevy of not-so-funny characters and side plots that only convolute and weaken the story even more along the way. Despite the many things I think Robots does right, there is too much it did wrong, and I just didn’t understand why until I decided to write this review. Every story needs a protagonist who has goals; Robots‘ protagonist just has too many, none of which scream out to me to want to watch him grow and struggle to accomplish said goals. Every story needs a villain who also has something they want, but the potency of Robots‘ antagonist is muddled by his mother, who is the real antagonist (in other words, one antagonist would have worked better).
Ultimately, Robots tries too hard to compensate for its predictable story by giving its protagonist too many goals, packing the cast to the brim with a swell of characters voiced by A-list talent (from McGregor to Robin Williams), beautiful animation and way too many lame jokes. By the end of the film, I could care less that there was a happy ending with all parties involved getting what they wanted. All I really wanted were my two hours back.
Conversely, perhaps Robots might have worked better as a longer format TV-series animation, since it had so many story angles and characters it wanted to introduce. The series format for animation is much more forgiving than the feature-length format. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the standard two-hour movie format is an unforgiving vehicle in which to try to deliver a story, especially (in my opinion) when it comes to animation. So even if your CG/animation quality is top-notch, your story better be even more top-notch if you want it to work. Though I think audiences tend to suspend their disbelief and be a little more lenient with animation, chalking it up to being just for kids and the like, I would argue that with the influence of Pixar, Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), and Japan’s animation industry on the whole, feature-length animation has become just as brutal a format to tell stories in as live-action feature films, and gets taken just as seriously.
Unfortunately for Fox’s Robots, it wasn’t able to keep pace for me. Hopefully in this article I was able to sum up exactly why this was the case. Quality over quantity, my friends, quality over quantity. Robots has amazingly beautiful pictures to look at, but not much else.
Contact the Author: CoreyBirkhofer@MoviesIDidntGet.com