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Review: Bright 'Robots' rise above script

Visuals save the day, despite flat plot

By Paul Clinton
For CNN.com

Robots
Rodney Copperbottom (right, voice of Ewan McGregor) attracts the attention of Cappy (Halle Berry) in "Robots."
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(CNN) -- The eye-popping visuals of "Robots" swirl, zing and ping right off the screen. Director Chris Wedge ("Ice Age") and his talented team at Blue Sky Studios have created an entire world populated by robots of all shapes and sizes. They've also gathered an amazing group of talented actors to give voice to their unique creations.

Unfortunately, the script by David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel -- while full of great gags and wonderful non-sequiturs -- isn't as creative as the inventive visuals.

And while the film does manage to find some human emotion inside all the gears, grease, rivets and whistles, overall it lacks the heart that was at the core of "Ice Age."

The film begins with the arrival of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) who is delivered to his parents (Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest) in a cardboard box. The finally assembles their new baby boy after 12 hours of labor (get it?). As he grows older he gets replacement parts, mostly second-hand.

When he comes of age young Rodney grows tired of living in the confines of Rivet Town. He begins to dream of heading to the big time in Robot City and becoming an inventor like his hero, the kind and wise Bigweld (Mel Brooks), who owns Bigweld Industries.

Making his way in Robot City

Rodney is dazzled by the multi-layered big city, which is part amusement park, part 1950s retro/art deco/futurist dream. He finally arrives at Bigweld Industries full of hope and optimism only to find that Bigweld has disappeared and a tyrannical corporate shark, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), has taken over.

Backed by his evil mother Madame Gasket (a cleverly cast Jim Broadbent), who owns a robot chop shop, Ratchet is determined to rid the world of all outdated robots by refusing to provide new parts. He believes in rampant consumerism and is determined to change the robot world into his vision where everything is new, shiny and expensive.

Robots
The conniving Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) has nasty plans for Robot City.

He sends poor Rodney -- with his old-fashioned robot body -- packing, but not before Copperbottom catches the eye of a slick female robot, Cappy (Halle Berry). With his dreams shattered, Rodney falls in with a group of other old-model robots, known as Rusties, living on the edge of society.

This motley crew includes Fender (an out-of-control Robin Williams), who is constantly dropping body parts at the most inopportune moments; Fender's tomboy little sister Piper Pinwheeler (Amanda Bynes); and Crank Casey (Drew Carey). They've all taken shelter with Aunt Fanny (Jennifer Coolidge), whose big heart is only over shadowed by her extremely large rear end (get it? OK, I'll stop now).

Bonded by their mutual need for replacement parts, the group - now joined by Cappy, who can't resist Rodney's boyish charms -- sets out to find Bigweld and stop the nefarious plans of Ratchet and Madame Gasket.

Script doesn't keep up

Visually, the film is astounding. The computer-generated animation is detailed and lifelike (well, as lifelike as robots can get) and the colorful images (the robots themselves, the crazily majestic look of Robot City) outdo each other for spectacle.

But the script is rather pedestrian. It's missing the zing of the images or the emotion of "Ice Age" (or almost any Pixar film).

Fortunately, the vocal performances are all first-rate, and parents will enjoy some of the film's sly humor and visual puns.

Children should enjoy it without reservation. After all, in addition to the mind-boggling look of its mechanical characters, the film manages somehow to include a few fart jokes, de rigueur for a family film nowadays.

"Robots" is rated PG.


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