Dir: Chris Wedge, CarlosSaldanha. US. 2005. 85mins.
In the modern cinematic age, animation has become abehemoth sub-genre of its own and - if done right - a virtual licence to printmoney, as Disney's lucrative, if waning, partnership with Pixar and DreamWorks'successful joint ventures with PDI have helped prove.
Of course, given the stakes,a regular commercial failure takes on even greater import: note how Titan AE(2000), put a nail in 20th Century Fox's in-house animated ventures. So it wasa welcome surprise when, two years later, the Fox-distributed Ice Ageopened huge in March en route to a $176m haul in the US and over $380mworldwide.
Developed with Blue Sky, IceAge spawned an in-production sequel (bowing next year) and a multi-picturedeal, the first fruit from which, Robots, bows in a similar March USrelease slot this Friday. It is likely to enjoy a welcoming commercialreception, both at home and abroad, since the story is simple and universalenough to have a broad, cross-cultural appeal. Ancillary will likewise provebuoyant (in Europe alone Ice Age has sold 11m-plus units on DVD andvideo).
Robots' story is as straightforward as can be, taking placein a robots-only world where the class system and all other elements of societymirror humanity.
The enthusiastic son of adishwasher and stay-at-home-mom, young Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by EwanMcGregor) leaves working class Rivet Town for the shiny dreams of Robot City.Rodney has an optimist's heart, and wants to be an inventor (his claim to famebeing' another robot that helps his father); his hero is an earnest businessleader named Bigweld (voiced by Mel Brooks).
Rodney quickly finds the bigcity not exactly as he imagined it. Bigweld has been confined to a state ofdistracted house arrest by a rapacious junior CEO, Phineas T Ratchet (voiced byGreg Kinnear), who wants to phase out of the low-end repair business and moveexclusively to "upgrades".
Taking his orders from hisdomineering mother, Ratchet pitches a new company line built around the shiny,self esteem-eviscerating slogan, "Why be you when you can be new'" andenvisions a world of wild, perpetual profit, never mind the "human"consequence.
Rodney then teams up withtalkative grifter Fender (voiced by Robin Williams) and a group of "outmode"misfits - blue-collar 'bots who can't afford fancy upgrades. With the help ofthe big-bottomed Aunt Fanny (voiced by Jennifer Coolidge) and a rejuvenatedBigweld, they aim to unseat Ratchet and save the day.
Whereas Ice Age hadfew chances visually, with its frozen tundras and wide expanses, to develop thesort of depth of field that distinguishes the best of animation's offerings, Robotshas a packed frame, a la the Toy Story and Shrek films.
A myriad of quick jokes andclever sight gags (including all manner of wordplay relating to grease and oil,nuts and bolts) pepper the script, many of which will sail harmlessly over theheads of younger audience members but find welcome reception in accompanyingparents and older siblings.
While the film quiteobviously stands on the shoulders of other recent animated hits, it doessucceed in establishing a convincing milieu and setting all its own. On a purevisceral level, though, Robots' colour palette is still somewhat muted -slightly dulled colors (understandably) dominated by silver and grey. This hasthe overall effect of lessening some of the "pop" vibrancy that make the ToyStory and Shrek films such easy visual treats.
That said, Robotscontains enough character-based humour to appeal well to both children andadults. Its story is uncomplicated but fun and buoyant, and a cut-looseWilliams in particular has a blast. Those old enough to remember the novelty ofhis voice turn in Aladdin will no doubt especially find Robots awelcome reprise.
Prod cos: Blue Sky, 20th Century Fox
US dist: 20th Century Fox
Int'l dist: 20th Century FoxInt'l
Exec prod: William Joyce
Prods: Jerry Davis, John C Donkin
Scr: Lowell Ganz & BabalooMandel, based on a story by Jim McClain & Ron Mita
Prod des: William Joyce
Art dir: Steve Martino
Ed: John Carnochan
Mus: John Powell
Main cast (voices): EwanMcGregor, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Halle Berry, Drew Carey,Jennifer Coolidge, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci, Dianne Wiest, Harland Williams,Paul Giamatti