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Fox / 91 Minutes / 2005 / Rated PG / Street Date: March 22, 2011
Created by Blue Sky Studios, from which Ice Age emerged, Robots is remarkable for its sheer visual density. In this alternate universe, a planet is populated exclusively by robots and the machines that serve them. Their society is a direct analogue of our own. Parents have children (although some assembly is required) and raise them with love and care. As the child's artificial intelligence learns and matures, the parents purchase replacement parts in bigger sizes, paralleling our biological growth physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And like our families, when money is tight, hand-me-downs are welcomed, sometimes with bizarre consequences.
Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) comes from such a modest household in Rivet City. His loving parents (voiced by Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest) do the best they can, but Herb earns only a modest living as a dish washer. Rodney longs to make his parents proud and has become quite a tinkerer; he invents a little droid to help his hardworking dad. Rodney also longs to find success as an inventor working for the much-admired tycoon named Big Weld (Mel Brooks). And when Rodney packs his droid and sets off for Robot City, anxious to impress what he hopes to be his future employer, the real adventure begins.
Alas, Big Weld's vast empire is now being run by his number two, Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), and changes have been made. Innovation is no longer a priority. Budding inventors are no longer welcome. In a most despicable form of corporate greed, spare parts production is being shut down to stimulate sales of upgrades. This causes many robots to fall into such disrepair that they become grist for the scrap heap mill, much to the delight of Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent), Ratchet's greedy and controlling mother. She owns the recycling facility.
Rodney is unceremoniously dismissed by playfully sadistic Tim the Gate Guard (Paul Giamatti), a character that bears an uncanny resemblance to a hand puppet. Rodney persists, managing to bypass security, only to be dumped outside the main gate after a bit of necessary Ratchet exposition. Without money or a job, it's fortunate that he's made a few friends along the way to help him survive in the big city. Most prominent is the erratic Fender (Robin Williams), flirtatious Piper (Amanda Bynes), depressed Crank (Drew Carey), lovable hulk Lug (Harland Williams), Diesel (a member of the gang that needs a new voice box), and surrogate mother Aunt Fanny (Jennifer Coolidge). Perhaps most importantly, he finds an ally in the sexy metallic form of Cappy (Halle Berry), a corporate exec that misses Big Weld and disapproves of Ratchet's leadership policies.
The film is ostensibly about Rodney's determined quest to save his failing father and to prevent the wholesale slaughter of robots that can no longer buy spare parts, but it's really about his journey to find himself, find his place in society, and earn the respect of his parents by making their lives better. The storyline is straightforward, but the density of the images, the clever and ingenious Rube Goldberg machines that support the robot population, some witty writing, and a stellar voice cast make this film a real treat. In addition to the actors I've already mentioned, listen for Paula Abdul, Terry Bradshaw, Marshall Efron, Dan Hedaya, James Earl Jones, Jay Leno, Natasha Lyonne, Al Roker, and Alan Rosenberg.