When it comes to CGI films several studios are trying to emulate the success of Pixar and Disney. We've all seen stuff from Dreamworks like Shrek and Shark Tales. Even Fox Studios made an attempt to take a slice out of that big pie with the very forgettable Ice Age back in 2002. The market is still wide open though so Fox came back with another animated adventure earlier in 2005 called Robots and was met with mediocre box office success.
Much of the lackluster reception in theaters may have had something to do with some mixed reviews about the film. Robots may boast a vast all star cast, shiny chest plates and more bells and whistles than you can shake a wrench at but in the end it feels like it has a heart made out of cold metal. For me at least I just couldn't connect with any of the characters and with all of the slapstick comedy and pop culture references it made it very difficulty to feel any real emotion from the picture. That's not to say that the movie doesn't have a purpose or heart it's just when you get right down to it Robots feels a little too artificial.
On the surface the movie is ripe with imagination and some amazing character designs. The robotic world springs to life in an array of color and creativity that impresses with just about every scene. Eye candy can't carry a story though and in that regard there is very little tale that is told. It seems that the majority of the plot here was something of an afterthought. It's almost like the creators got together in a room and said "All right, we have some cool looking robots. Now what can we have them do?"
The movie focuses on the life of Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) who is a young robot setting out for an adventure in the big world. Rodney happens to be the son of a dishwasher (in the literal sense) and has taken it upon himself to go to the big city. His ambition is to meet his personal hero Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks) and become a renowned inventor just like him. On his way through the city, Rodney runs into a schizophrenic robot named Fender (Robin Williams) and finds himself constantly pestered by the red tin man and his friends.
When Rodney finally makes his way to Bigweld industries he finds the head honcho isn't around and the company is being run by a sinister guy called Ratchet (Greg Kinnear). It's Ratchet's ambition to outmode every robot in the world unless they upgrade to sexier new bodies. He's going to do this by stopping production on spare parts, so quickly everyone starts falling to pieces. Lucky for them Rodney knows a thing or two about how to use a screwdriver and quickly becomes the go to guy for help. This earns the ire of Ratchet and his evil mother Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent) and soon enough Rodney and his friends are targeted to be the newest line of scrap metal.
Despite having a straight forward and not very creative story, Robots is a lot of fun for the family. There is plenty of humor but it seems to be aimed towards the younger audience with jokes about bodily fluids and farts that are a cheap laugh. Pop culture references like breaking into a dance number to Britney Spears happen all too often for my liking and really cheapen the movie. Once you add in the fact that the message of the film is the age old "if you put your mind to it, you can do anything" shtick, this package feels factory assembled.
Points in the movie's favor do have to go to the amazing cast of actors that lend their voices to their robotic counterparts. Everyone does a great job here and the movie even marks the voiceover return of the maniacal Robin Williams. He is single handedly the most amusing aspect of the film and while he isn't given as much free reign as he was in Disney's Aladdin, there is still plenty here for fans of his work to appreciate. I particularly like how they gave Fender's hands personalities of their own and it allows Williams to let loose a little bit.
In the end Robots is definitely entertaining and fun for the whole family, it just doesn't get high marks in the creativity department. The story is essentially color by numbers material right down to the message that it tries to dish out and pop culture references really cheapen the fantasy aspect of it all. Blue Sky Studios does an amazing job creating the world and characters, there just needed to be more substance added to make the film something special and memorable.
Cut straight from the digital source, Robots looks absolutely stunning with it's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. For lack of a better term the image quality here is nearly flawless with really nothing to complain about. The colors remain vibrant, the video is crystal clear and aside from a few moments where it becomes soft the picture is very sharp. There is so much attention to detail in this robotic world that I found it a little daunting at first but it took my breath away. Compared to Ice Age this movie is not only designed better but it receives a better DVD transfer comparably.
With two English audio options we get the best of both worlds with this release. Depending what your set up allows for and what you prefer there are 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks available here. Both sound absolutely remarkable and make some intelligent use of speaker set up although the DTS sounds a smidge better. The directional audio is great with the main sound effects and workings of the robotic world, music and dialogue pumping from all angles. The sound is ultra crisp and clean with no real noticeable distortion or flaws and is on par with the visual aspect of the disc.
Under the "Upgrades" section of the main menu are a house full of extra features that work well on the disc. Aside from some Fox promos, a teaser for Ice Age 2 and a demo for the Xbox Robots video game there are also some small games on the DVD that will provide some distraction for the youngsters.
There is also a pretty good selection of character galleries that offer more information than you'd expect. With eleven characters under the microscope there are clips of the voice actor talking about their character for each one with the exception of Diesel who doesn't have a voice of his own. Every character also has a selection of design sketches that show the progression of the design up to the final material and there is a 3D turnaround model showing the final product in motion.
A five minute documentary on the Blue Man Group finds its way onto the disc and the producers discuss the inspiration for the metallic style of music. There is another documentary called "You can shine no matter what you're made of" and it sums up the problems of the movie in a nutshell. The creators discuss that while most films are started with a story, Robots was crafted from a visual idea. It's interesting to watch to learn how they came up with some of the concepts but is very representative about the problems with the picture.
Discontinued Parts is a selection of three deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Chris Wedge. The first involves Tim the gate guard and shows how his conversation with Rodney really ended. This was unnecessary and was understandably cut from the end product because it breaks the illusion that Tim is a hand puppet. The rest are some more character interactions that feature incomplete animations and in some cases conceptual sketches to display the sequences.
A couple of short films make it onto the disc included an original test reel that showcases some animation of robots in a sketch environment. The other one is a real treat called Aunt Fanny's Tour of BOOTY which is a five minute tour of the Robot City train station. It's more like a comedy reel with a lot of hilarious bits without much story behind it. Definitely watch this when you're done with the film and want some more laughs at the expense of Fender and company.
There are also two commentary tracks that each offer something different depending what you are looking for. There is one with a ton of the team members from Blue Sky Studios that goes over the technical aspects of the movie and making it. It is very informative but honestly there are so many people talking about it that it can get pretty headache inducing. The other commentary track is with Director Chris Wedge and Production Designer/Producer William Joyce. This second track was much easier to listen to and I got more out of it because there was a narrower amount of opinions and thoughts.
For all of you Easter Egg hunters I found a very small animation clip on the special features menu. If you click left on your controller from the commentaries section you will be treated to a glitch animation of Rodney losing body parts and eventually his head.
Visually Robots is absolutely stunning and the film is remarkably detailed in every sense. The DVD is really no different with a fantastic digital transfer, some wonderful audio quality and a slew of quality extras. My only issues with this release have to do with the movie itself because it definitely has it's flaws. The story may be rich with interesting characters and many funny situations but the simple fact is in this case the plot was second place next to the concept of the film.
Children will enjoy it more than adults will thanks to some very immature humor and gaudy pop culture references. Even so this is a good watch for the whole family but will not give you the emotional connection that something like a Pixar project would. Recommended