Things look all snazzy but don't go much beyond the good looks in Robots, 20th Century Fox's latest CGI animated feature. Set in a world completely inhabited by artificial humans, this one, from the makers of Ice Age, is much like its prehistoric predecessor: It's a good time for the kids, while not a totally alienating experience for adults. It's no Shrek, but it's world's better than last year's Shark Tale, a movie that had a bad chemical effect on me.
Rodney Copperbottom (voice of Ewan McGregor) is a robot made up of spare parts. His little robot brain is a robust one, because it invents things, like little flying robots that squeak and break stuff. He wants to make it big in Robot City (a creative enough name for a metropolis inhabited by robots), where he wants to work for the grandest of all robots, Bigweld (Mel Brooks). Mom and Dad Copperbottom (Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor ... just kidding; it's Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest really) send their son on his way, hoping he'll take the big city by storm and keep them supplied with motor oil in their old age.
Along the way to his inevitable meeting with Bigweld, Rodney encounters "Out Modes," robots who, like him, are going out of style and, if they are not careful, being broken down for scraps. Robin Williams makes his obligatory cartoon experience here as Fender, some sort of tourist scavenger who takes pictures and shows newcomers the ropes at Robot City. Fender really doesn't register much as a character, his presence just an excuse for Williams to "riff." Williams's riffing goes his usual range, from mildly amusing to unforgivably irritating. Godammit, I wish he'd just shut up.
Someone else who barely registers is Halle Berry as a robot executive at Bigweld's factory. Berry seems to have the smallest line count of anybody in the cast. Her character of Cappy is also supposed to be a love interest for Rodney, but other than a quick little hug thing at the end, that doesn't materialize. This is a kiddy film, so there's no robotic CGI version of the Monster's Ball sex surprise for the kids. That would've been different ... and totally evil.
All I've done is bitch so far, so now's the time for some praise. The film is good-looking. Rodney's introduction to Robot City, which involves a labyrinthine rollercoaster ride, is a hoot. Robots has a sporadically sick-and-twisted sense of humor that got me laughing out loud on more than one occasion: not hunched over laughing, but mild audible guffawing that people two or three seats over could hear if they tried. The different robot creations are visually entertaining, as are some of the voice characterizations.
The film often tries to do a little too much, getting way too frantic in certain instances, with action whipping by too fast to take it in. Better that something tries to do too much than too little, I guess.
McGregor brings a nice sweetness to Rodney, making him a robot-guy thing we can all root and care for. Drew Carey and Amanda Bynes also score some laughs in supporting roles. Playing the villainous Ratchet, a Bigweld employee looking to remove his boss through nefarious means, Greg Kinnear is quite nasty. My personal favorite casting: Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent as Ratchet's evil mother.
I'm giving it the slightest of recommendations, because it's pretty darn harmless, and its design is often impressive. There's even a little short preview featuring Scrat, the little Ice Age bastard who has all those difficulties with acorns, so that's a plus. Also, the Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith trailer is attached to it, and this preview kicks butt. Darth Vader is coming back everybody. Darth Vader!