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In a wondrously clanky universe populated solely by mechanical beings live memorable robots Rodney Copperbottom, a young genius inventor who dreams of helping robots everywhere; Cappy, a beautiful, dynamic and savvy bot with whom Rodney is instantly smitten; the nefarious corporate tyrant Ratchet who locks horns with Rodney; Bigweld, a master inventor who has lost his way; and a group of misfit a-bots known as the Rusties, led by Fender and Piper Pinwheeler. Fenderas head, arms, and legs routinely fall off at the most inopportune moments. As Rodney fulfills Fenderas ongoing need for repairs, the two become fast friends. Piper is Fenderas tomboy kid sister, who surprises everyone with her determination and strength.
For more about Robots and the Robots Blu-ray release, see Robots Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on March 21, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey
Director: Chris Wedge
» See full cast & crew
Robots Blu-ray Review
Held from greatness by a clunky nuts-and-bolts story.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, March 21, 2011
Let's face it: Pixar's Wall-E has rendered 20th Century Fox's Robots obsolete. Where the former is an emotional, thematically rich parable—a Prometheus/Adam and Eve tale for the under-10 set—the latter is little more than a clunky plot riding on a rickety rollercoaster of meaningless non- stop action. This emphasis on strong writing and stories with soul is what continuously separates Pixar from its less-successful competitors, whose films may work as mere entertainments but rarely rise to the level of magical childhood experiences. Robots just doesn't grab you like the best Pixar productions. It's characters are bland and forgettable, its follow-your-dreams moral just a little too pat, and it seems constructed entirely from the scrapheap leftovers of some far better, more thoughtful film. Still, kids love it. There are gross-out jokes aplenty and elaborate action sequences. Sight gags and one-liners abound. Robin Williams does his mile-a-minute improv shtick to funny-but-well-shy-of-hilarious effect. What else is there to say?
Robots does have one thing going for it; the animators at Blue Sky Studios have created a clever mechanical universe that draws inspiration from steampunk, the Raygun Gothic style of mid-century sci-fi, and sleek futuristic design. The film's central locale, Robot City, is a kid-friendly Metropolis, a clockwork, corkscrew world of gears and wheels and metal irises. In a satirical swipe at the drudgery of the urban morning commute, the city's transportation system is a convoluted Rube Goldberg contraption that whisks citizens in spherical cages through a dizzying procession of loop-the- loops and pachinko-meets-pinball tumbles, bopping them to their final destinations with a forceful thwack from an enormous fulcrum-mounted hammer. The former mayor, Bigweld (Mel Brooks)—a jovial, roly-poly robot inventor—originally envisioned the city as a utopia for automatons of all shapes and sizes. Capitalism, however, has resulted in the stratification of the robotic populace. As in Fritz Lang's silent classic, the hellish underground wards of this metropolis are comprised of factories and fiery furnaces where lower-class workers slave away, disassembling and melting down outmoded robots. Just above, the middle-class bots—looking like worn-out castoffs from some 1930s vision of the future—struggle to find spare parts. (There's a jab about U.S. health care in here somewhere.) Meanwhile, the city's elites live in gleaming towers and are rich enough to cover up their unsightly mechanical innards with shiny casings called "upgrades." These coveted new exteriors are being shilled by Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a mama's boy and corporate tool who has ousted Bigweld from power and, in a bid to make more money, has forbidden the manufacture and sale of used parts.
If this setting sounds like fertile ground for an allegory about class and corporate greed in America, it certainly is, but Robots ultimately makes little use of it. Director Chris Wedge (Ice Age) and his team of screenwriters—including Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel of City Slickers fame—squander an evocative premise by consistently taking the path of least resistance. Where the film could've been entertaining and intelligent, it settles for the tired, tried, and true: fart jokes. (There's a big-caboosed character named Aunt Fanny, voiced by Jennifer Coolidge, whose flatulence has the power to kill.) There are now-stale pop culture references galore and even a few innuendos lobbed at parents—"Making the baby is the fun part," says a robot wife to her husband as they assemble their infant out of parts from a box—but the sophistication only occasionally rises above a junior high level.
The story concerns Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), a wide-eyed son of a dishwasher who goes to Robot City hoping to meet Bigweld and become an inventor himself. "See a need, fill a need," is Bigweld's mantra, and Rodney takes it to heart, building a "Wonderbot" to help his run- down father (Stanley Tucci) do dishes. As it turns out, no one in Robot City is impressed by Rodney's invention, least of all Phineas T. Ratchet, who— at the urging of his power-hungry mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent)—has turned Bigweld Industries into an all-controlling conglomerate that seeks to rid the city of its poorer, less-desirable inhabitants. A fast-talking junker named Fender (Robin Williams) takes Rodney under his wing—or, rather, his spindly, always-falling-off arm—and introduces our hero to the gaseous Aunt Fannie, who runs a kind of boarding house for rusty old robots, supplying them with a greasy cup of oil every morning and providing shelter from the ominous street sweepers that patrol the neighborhood, gobbling up bots in disrepair and hauling them off to the city's underground smelters. With his newfound friends facing annihilation and his father in dire need of spare parts, Rodney has to track down Bigweld and form a robot resistance army strong enough to take down Ratchet.
All of this is staged breathlessly, with few of the film's brisk 91 minutes devoted to developing its characters. Robots speeds along, rarely slowing, moving from one action sequence to the next, propelled by a near-constant barrage of sight gags. Some of the funnier ones are almost unfortunately subtle—like a robot completely disassembling himself and putting himself into bins to go through a TSA-like airport X-ray scanner—but most are outrageously over the top. (Look! Bigweld is surfing on a cresting wave of falling dominoes! Watch out!) The breakneck antics are sure to keep kids' attentions from wandering, but this comes at a great expense—Robots simply doesn't engage in any emotional or dramatic capacity. Aside from Robin Williams, who, as always, is simply too kooky to ignore, the rest of the cast fails to register. Halle Berry is particularly dull as Cappy, Rodney's metallic love interest, and Ewan McGregor bumbles through with an affected American accent. Is the film funny? It can be. Does it hold interest? For 91 minutes and no more. But here's the million-dollar question: How can a film about the importance of individuality seem so corporate and sleek?
Robots Blu-ray, Video Quality
Pixar has set the bar incredibly high for CGI animated films, not just for story and originality, but also for the quality of their high definition Blu-ray encodes. Robots reaches for that level of visual excellence, but can't quite grasp it. Don't get me wrong; in most regards, this is still a blazingly beautiful transfer from 20th Century Fox. CGI has improved dramatically over the past six years—especially when it comes to particle effects like smoke and fire— but Robots really doesn't look dated. The character designs—perhaps the movie's strongest feature—are rendered with exceptional clarity, providing a vast upgrade from the standard definition DVD. (And an even greater leap from the film's VHS release; Robots was the last animated Fox feature to shuffle out to stores in cassette form.) Of course, the film is also insanely colorful. The corporate drones may all be covered in slick metallic grays, but our rag-tag group of robot individualists sports bold primary and secondary hues, and the environments are vividly shaded. Black levels are deep, contrast is tight, and the film has a truly three-dimensional sense of presence. So, where does this encode falter? In a word: artifacts. There are only traces of banding in occasional fine color gradients—rarely, if ever, noticeable—but you will spot frequent aliasing in thin lines, especially in the features of the characters' faces. This might not be apparent if you have a small screen or if you sit far away, but it's readily visible up close and on larger monitors. Thankfully, other encode issues—noisiness, for instance—are of no concern.
Robots Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The back of the Blu-ray case advertises a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, but my firmware-up-to-date PS3 only detected a lossy DTS 5.1 mix. That is, minus the "HD Master Audio." (The audio tab in the top menu also only says "English 5.1 DTS.") 20th Century Fox is normally great about including lossless audio tracks on all of their releases—even the lower profile ones—so I'm not sure why Robots, undoubtedly a huge seller, is an exception. Perhaps the rationale is that kids—the target audience—simply won't know the difference. Regardless, this is still a fairly strong track, especially when it comes to directionality. The rear channels are used frequently, not just for ambience—the immersive sounds of an all-robot marching band, the clamor in the robot equivalent of Grand Central Station—but also for whiplash cross-channel effects, circling the space behind your head. Dynamically, however, the mix does seem somewhat squashed, taking up a cluttered residence in the middle range. High-end sounds aren't quite as crisp as they could be, and low end is lacking. Likewise, dialogue just doesn't stand out as cleanly as it probably would with a lossless track. My final assessment? Kids might not know the difference, but their hardcore audiophile parents probably will.
Do note that along with the standard "American" English audio track, there are also "Australian" English and "U.K." English dubs in DTS 5.1.
Robots Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Robots Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Robots is no Wall-E—it just doesn't have the same dramatic weight—but it does feature fluid CGI animation, great character design, and a brilliantly constructed mechanical world. A pity it's wasted on a rather uninteresting story. Still, animation enthusiasts will probably want to pick this one up, so long as they don't mind a lossy audio track and a video presentation that has a few minor encode issues.
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