In the battleground of computer animation, the two behemoths of Pixar and Dreamworks reign supreme. Their different styles and philosophies, as well as their long-standing rivalry have garnered most of the press. Largely ignored is the third biggest studio, Blue Sky, who produced the 2002 hit “Ice Age” and now “Robots.” With its unique style and entertaining story, there is no doubt that “Robots” will help catapult the studio into the spotlight.
“Robots” (20th Century Fox) tells the story of Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), an aspiring inventor who leaves his suburban home seeking a career in Robot City with his idol, Bigweld (Mel Brooks), a Walt Disney-type master inventor. However, when he discovers that Bigweld has been overthrown by the corporate tyrant Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) and plans to destroy all the outdated robots, Rodney and his friends must fight back.
While visuals can be breathtaking, without a solid story, any film will suffer. Unfortunately, this is “Robots'” weakest point. The script isn’t “Incredibles”-quality and doesn’t break new ground. However, it was entertaining, with sophomoric inside jokes that only adults could understand.
The latest advances in computer animation are showcased in the film, from the intricate and detailed cities to the stylized character designs by William Joyce (“Rollie Pollie Ollie”). The characters have unique designs that are unlike any other animated film, and their details, from the rust to the slight dents, add to their realism. The movement of the characters is so smooth and realistic that I had to remind myself at times I wasn’t watching a stop-motion animated film. The city environment is also amazing, as every building and structure has meticulous elements, and there are no extraneous scenes whose only purpose is to flex the studio’s technological muscle.
The cast consists of all celebrity voices, which is good for marketing purposes, but having a big-name actor doesn’t necessarily mean top-notch voice acting. The “star,” Ewan McGregor, does a decent role as Rodney, but his performance is nothing amazing. Other than three actors, the rest of the cast is pretty bland and not really notable. Robin Williams plays Fender, the sidekick, and he provides many of the laughs and is the most memorable of the characters. However, he doesn’t really play a “role;” he’s just playing Robin Williams. Mel Brooks and Greg Kinnear were also memorable, as they both have strong voices that have character and range.
Like some of the characters in the film, “Robots” is a little rusty. The story is somewhat predictable and its message of individuality has been seen in many other animated works, but the animation is the shining element of the film and its technological achievements are stunning. The film may not be perfect, but it shouldn’t be sold to the junkyard as scrap metal.
“Robots” opens Friday in Washington, D.C.