There is an oxymoron at work when you give robots human emotions and attributes. With animation though, anything is possible. Put a movie star’s voice behind any animal or anything at all, and these creatures easily become humans.
Ewan McGregor, I mean, Rodney Copperbottom, the hero of the movie, is a wide-eyed small town robot who goes to Robot City to meet his idol, an iconic inventor named Bigweld. Rodney is hoping to impress Bigweld with his latest invention and get a job. In the city, he meets Fender, an erratic robot which has the same high level of energy, oh I don’t know, as Robin Williams. Fender introduces Rodney to the rusty part of the city, where robots are practically scraps put together and in need of a lot of fixing. When Rodney finally gets his chance to go to Bigweld Industries, he alarmingly witnesses a transition stage when Phineas Ratchet, a typical business shark, takes control. Phineas has decided to stop selling robot replacement parts so the robots will be forced to pay for expensive upgrades. What happens to those who can’t afford the upgrades? That’s when you cross your metallic fingers and hope that Rodney and his band of plucky scraps thwart Ratchet’s plans.
“Robots” does contain expected ingredients of a formulaic animated feature. You’ve got the movie star voices, the no-quitter hero, an irrepressible, scene-stealing side kick, a potential love interest, a one-dimensional villain, adult inside jokes, puerile gags, and a few pop culture references. Luckily, the movie has more to offer. It is smart to take a breather. There are few scenes that have nothing to do with the plot but are wonderful to behold. My favorite is a scene where Rodney and Fender go through a dizzying transportation system. It is not a continuous ride and the pauses are awfully effective as we wait on how the twosome resumes their ride. The city itself is also interesting, where some monuments and buildings have plump designs that remind you of Bigweld. It didn’t exactly wow me visually, but the look seems just right and real. Its inhabitants have their own distinguishing traits. Only the shiny and upgraded robots somehow resemble each other.
I must admit too that I fell for some sentimental parts of the movie, especially when Rodney’s oh-so-decent parents are trying to afford Rodney’s secondhand replacement parts. On the comedy side, it does manage to spring out some surprising wit and clever insights (look for a chalk outline). But as the minutes tick by, there’s no escaping that pretty much you know where the story must end.
It would be easy to dismiss “Robots” if it’s compared to the high-class Pixar animated features. But I have a feeling “Robots” is content to be underestimated. It goes along with the underdog spirit of the film. While it is no cutting-edge, at least it’s content to be what it is without any upgrades.