It's been a few years since Ice Age, the surprisingly amusing hit from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios. With Robots, the duo proves that there is a third alternative to the Pixar/Disney juggernaut and the Dreamworks/PDI alliance. Robots falls squarely in the middle of the two. It lacks the witty sophistication and deeply nuanced storytelling elements of Pixar, and thankfully avoids the smart-alecky humor of Dreamworks. There is no doubt that Robots looks great. The animation is crisp and clear, and the designs all have a unique look to them. Everything in the world of Robots has a 'retro' look and feel to it. Robots are comprised of gears, cogs, springs, and all sorts of other mechanical objects, sometimes haphazardly cobbled together. All of the sprung from the mind of Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Bunny), who co-directed the film with Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age).

Robot City is a teeming metropolis, full of strange buildings and a pinball/pachinko machine-like subway. It's upper levels are shiny and clean, while closer to the ground, a dingier, rusty robotic underworld exists. The detail is excellent, and one can even see the way that light reflects off the metal of the bots. However, all the illustrations are child friendly, and almost never scary. What needs work is the screenplay, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Where the Heart Is, EdTV), working off a story by Jim McClain and Ron Mita (S.W.A.T.). On an amusing note, their script stresses originality and innovation, while the story feels as if it were taken off an assembly line. It's the same story kids have seen multiple times, only now wrapped in shiny robot characters and an impressive roster of vocal talent. The humor rums the gamut, from some clever lines and parodies to lame jokes involving farts and big butts.

Everything centers around Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan MacGregor, Big Fish, Young Adam), a bright-eyed, smart robotic kid who wants to make his way to Robot City to pursue his dream of inventing for Bigweld (Mel Brooks, The Prince of Egypt, Dracula: Dead and Loving It), the wildly popular and benevolent millionaire who built a fortune on supplying spare parts for robots. What Rodney discovers is that Bigweld is missing, and Ratchet (Greg Kinnear, Godsend, Stuck On You) is angling to take over Bigweld's company. Ratchet wants to make a fortune by forcing robots to buy expensive new parts instead of spare parts. This means that poorer robots will become obsolete because they cannot afford these new parts. Once Rodney learns about Ratchet's plans, he vows to do the right thing and find Bigweld, and save Robot City.

Comic relief comes in the form of Robin Williams (Noel, The Final Cut), who voices Fender, a wacky sidekick. This is Williams in a return to form. This is Williams at his best, which some people think is his worst. He riffs on anything and everything around him. It is pretty annoying, but his fans should enjoy it. Rodney, Fender, Bigweld employee Cappy (Halle Berry, Catwoman, Gothika), and a host of Fender's misfit friends band together to formulate a plan to stop Ratchet. The vocal casting is okay on most counts, aside from a tender performance by Stanley Tucci (The Terminal, Shall We Dance?) as Rodney's father, and Jim Broadbent (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Vera Drake) as Ratchet's diabolical mother (yes, mother). Most of the other actors (including Jennifer Coolidge, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, and a slew of guest stars) seem there just so people will recognize their voices. The story moves along relatively slowly before a quick sprint to the end. So while Robots may not be that interesting to pay attention to, it sure is great to just look at.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 30 minutes, Rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor.

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