I went into this movie with average expectations. I wasn't expecting anything terribly clever or thought provoking or anything like that. I was expecting to be reasonably entertained for 90 minutes, to be able to say 'It was alright,' and mean it. I came out of this movie rather disappointed.
The big idea: A small town robot kid with big dreams heads to the big city, Robot City, to meet his idol, prove his worth to himself and his family and meets a bunch of quirky robots while there. This is a rite of passage story with a dash of Stick-It-To-Company-Profit-Mongers and a pinch of Mom'n'Pop values vs. Corporate Ideology.
This plot template has potential to be a good story with some depth. This potential is wasted in this movie. The only depth this movie had was in its characters, and then only a couple. Other than them, this movie is as shallow as a plastic wading pool, if not more so. While the exact details were not entirely predictable, the devices leading up to events are. The whole movie seems to revolve around the chance to make robot and machinery analogies to human actions and events. (Making a baby by literally making the baby by assembling it from a kit, as the kid grows up it gets hand-me-down clothes (parts) from his older cousins, an oil change is like going to the bathroom, needing a new part is a serious medical condition and so on…) While most of the puns aren't too painful, they are also not very funny. There are also a couple of fairly important temporal plot holes that were never really resolved. Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks) is implied to have been kept away from his company and at home for months, if not years, while Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who supposedly forced him there, had only taken over the company from him a very short time before and still seemed new and unknown to the board members. Time passes in interesting ways in this movie and I don't think it's supposed to.
They tried to make this world as robot-oriented as possible, to the point of not having things like grass or lawn chairs, because a robot world wouldn't need them. In a world where there are no genders and everyone is a machine and body sections are interchangeable and babies are ordered in a kit, delivered and then assembled like model cars, WHY is there an emphasis on sexiness in the new upgrades? They're not just sleek and sexy like a new futuristic car might be. They're sexy on a CARNAL level, both the 'male' and 'female' models. That is one human element that is even more ridiculous in this movie than the idea of a group of them dancing a Brittany Spears number (yes, that happens).
The characters, as far as design goes, are interesting and imaginative. Their personalities for the most part however are largely one-dimensional, without depth and less than memorable. Oddly enough, the quality of the voice acting almost makes up for what the characters personalities themselves lack. My three favorite characters in this movie are Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), Tim the Guard Doorman (Paul Giamatti) and Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). These are the ones who seemed to have a little more going on than just a cookie-cutter, paper-thin character type. Tim was the only character in the movie to get me to actually laugh, instead of chuckle, because he plays a good game of Gotcha! and that whole sequence where we first meet him is well-timed.
This movie can claim it has an all-star cast, as it does technically have a long list of people recognizable by name or deed:
- Drew Carey
- James Earl Jones
- Jay Leno
- Al Roker
- Ewan McGregor (Star Wars Episodes 1-3 as Obi Wan Kenobi)
- Greg Kinnear
- Lucille Bliss (Miss Bitters. Yes, THAT Miss Bitters)
- Halle Berry (NOT like a cat here; plays the female lead/love interest even though in actuality is more of a supporting character than a leading character)
- Robin Williams (who could almost be considered the female lead due to his character making an unfortunate mistake while grabbing a spare pair of legs)
- and a few more.
However, of the list of notables, only 3 or 4 of them had any significant 'screen' time. Most had (rather dry) one-liners that you'd miss while trying to find the joke in the scene. For example, Jay Leno had only 2 lines as a talking robotic fire hydrant that was about to get scent-marked by a (rather pesky) robot dog. James Earl Jones had all of ONE line during a 4 second Star Wars parody. Their props to Mr. McGregor perhaps? Al Roker had maybe 3 lines and was a walking, talking mailbox. The idea that this movie has a cast full of big stars is a bit of a gyp to me. It's like they had all these big people in a live-action movie and they were all 3 second cameos that no one knows about until the DVD comes out with it's frame-by-frame functions and The Making Of… featurettes.
The dialogue is mediocre at best. There are a couple of clever moments but they are few and far in between and are often followed up by something just as droll as the jokes before it. In contrast, the voice acting and direction (voice and action) are fairly good. Pretty good show of emotion, the action itself never really got stagnant, even in the calmer, slower parts of the movie. Good blend of action and inaction. Never really got bored with the movement on screen.
The animation was beautiful. The world the robots function in is interestingly designed. They did a bang up job with the animation of liquids. Quite smooth. Physics, even in the scope of this movie, is pushed a little. Even with an understanding of suspension of belief when you go to watch these movies, you still end up thinking "That's not how something like that would fall…". There are a few points where a few more frames within the sequence would have made some movement clearer. There are couple of spots where the movement was hard to follow because the animation moved too fast and the joke was lost.
A few things of note: Fender's (Robin Williams) impression of Singin' in the Rain (Singin' in the Oil) sequence could have been left out completely. The only thing good about that sequence was the beautiful rendition of liquid oil in the fountain as it splashed from being stomped in and kicked about. Robin Williams himself is very good, but his character got a bit old and tired by the half-way mark. Also, Robot City has a transit system that I would ride just for the endorphins if it wasn't for the fact that I'd start with 216 bones and end up with about 50,000 bone fragments. Robot City's transit system is like the illegitimate child of a pinball machine and the contents of an old-fashioned toy store. It's very easy to see what toys they modeled different sections of the transit system from like gyro- and physics-based toys and marble lifts, levers and tracks. Fun to watch on the big screen, I'll say.
Overall, I feel this movie was not targeted for my age demographic. This movie was meant for people aged 11-14. This is the kind of movie you would enjoy more if you went to watch it with your 12-year-old cousin or sister or whomever. This isn't a stupid movie, per se. Higher intelligence just isn't required; leave it in the car along with your bloody cellphone. This is an eye-candy movie with jokes aimed at today's pre-teen child. What moments are there are fairly weak and the movie has a low rewatchability factor. The most entertaining part of this movie was the short during the previews of little Scrat, still trying to get that bloody acorn, advertising the impending arrival of Ice Age 2...which is entirely unnecessary. They got the kid back to his family, what MORE could there be? How can they justify making ANOTHER one, aside from squeezing a previous moneymaker until it's an old, dry husk that everyone's tired of looking at? But I digress. The same people who did Ice Age made Robots and Ice Age was better. Really.
I don't take recreational drugs or alcohol of any kind, but if you're so inclined, I'd recommend prepping yourself first before seeing this movie. Have a couple of intellect-numbing drinks beforehand or, if you prefer to be sober, see this movie in the company of a middle-school aged child.