There’s magic in the Pixar formula that the purveryors of other computer-generated flicks have yet to master. Blue Sky, the studio behind the well-crafted but forgettable Ice Age, comes close — but no cigar — to capturing rival Pixar’s special touch with Robots.
Director Chris Wedge creates a world not of high-tech, futuristic machines, but of robots with mechanical springs, cranks and bolts. The animators capture fine details like rust and chipping paint, and create spectacular urban landscapes with robots traveling by magnificent chutes and slides.
Ewan McGregor voices Rodney Copperbottom, a rusting robot made of hand-me-down parts who’s left his small town to make it as an inventor in the big city, hoping to work for altruistic captain of industry Big Weld (Mel Brooks).
Rodney finds that his hero Big Weld has been ousted by the evil Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a tyrant who wants to do away with “outmodes” like clunky Rodney and his friends, like rusty bucket of bolts Fender (Robin Williams). Halle Berry is Cappy, the corporate executive who falls for Rodney and helps him to take down Ratchet.
The movie culminates in a robot battle with weapons and tactics that could have been inspired by TV’s BattleBots, only without teams of geeks with remote controls standing by.
However, where Robots fails — and Pixar succeeds — is in offering characters that are as multi-dimensional as the animation, and backing them with character actors, not just A-listers with dynamic voices.
Berry and McGregor have the looks, but that serves them little when trying to go toe-to-toe in an animated feature with hyperactive Williams, whose voice and personality could breathe life into a slug.
Director Wedge makes up for weak characters with a wildly imaginative robot world and a cache of great gags, many supplied by Williams and aimed well over the kiddies’ heads, for parents who’ve been dragged along for the ride.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.