Looking at the checklist to making a good animated film, the above-average and fun Robots has all the necessary parts: terrific animation, a plucky hero, big set pieces, big-named voices, excitement, laughter, morals, a heartstring-pulling ending, and an inspiring journey from zero to hero. But still, something feels lacking—as if the wiring holding it all together has a short circuit (robot pun intended).

Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) and Fender (Robin Williams)

Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) and Fender (Robin Williams)

While entertaining, Robots almost feels like a mechanical exercise (okay, I'll quit the puns) in how to make an entertaining family film instead of relying on innovative storytelling to create magic like CG powerhouses The Incredibles and Shrek 2 accomplished. The result is an enjoyable movie you laugh with, cheer on, and even tear up during—but once you leave the theater, not much of it sticks with you.

There's a lot to like about Robots. Set in a fantastically imaginative world populated only by robots, everything has a personality: bass drums, mailboxes, and even fire hydrants. The robots are pretty cool and unique. Some roll, some walk and some hop on springs. Some are chrome-covered and fancy. Others are made out of toasters or old car parts. But no matter what they are made of, the robots of this world are really just metal people with emotions and human experiences—including growing up, having dreams, and resigning to failure.

Robin Williams (the voice of Fender) goes a bit over the top with his innuendoes

Robin Williams (the voice of Fender) goes a bit over the top with his innuendoes

The movie centers on the idealistic Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), who is loved by his parents but grows up with nothing more than hand-me-down parts. Despite the embarrassment of not being top-of-the-line, Rodney has big dreams. He's especially inspired by inventor/TV celebrity Big Weld (Mel Brooks), whose slogan is: "If you are made of new parts or used parts, you can shine no matter what." With big aspirations and his dad's encouragement, Rodney sets out on a Wizard of Oz trek to meet Big Weld and become a famous inventor.

When Rodney gets to Robot City, he discovers that Big Weld is missing and the ambitious Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) has taken over Big Weld Industries and introduced a new slogan: "Why be you when you can be new?" You see, Ratchet realized there's no money in telling people that they are okay they way they are. Instead, he hopes to make them feel "crummy" about themselves to he can sell more upgrades. Part of his plan is to stop selling repair parts so bots have to either buy an expensive upgrade … or become scrap metal.

Halle Berry's voice is wasted on the Cappy character (left)

Halle Berry's voice is wasted on the Cappy character (left)

With no other hope, Rodney leads the feisty and unstable Fender (Robin Williams) and his crew of quirky "outmodes" to find Big Weld, beat Ratchet, and find parts for Rodney's dad before he's taken to the chop shop.

Article continues below

It's a good storyline supported by almost photo-realistic animation, but a few hitches keep it all from working to potential. The biggest problem is that both the great self-worth theme and promising storyline get convoluted as they go by needless subplots and incomplete explanations. This causes the fast-moving film (only 90 minutes) to lose momentum and feel very long in places. And, most disappointingly, the ever-relevant moral of being yourself in a culture that says you're not good enough descends into a Spartacus-like violent rebellion. That's right, kids, you're good enough the way you are … so kick the tar out of those holding you down!

Secondly, many components to the film feel like they are there because they have to be. For instance, the film boasts a ton of big names. But attached to many of these big names are pretty dull voices. Only Williams, Kinnear, Brooks and Amanda Bynes stand out. On the other hand, Halle Berry as the love interest is a complete waste of a big salary. And her character is also worthless; she's apparently only in the film because movies "have" to have a love interest.

No ifs, ands, or bots, it's party time

No ifs, ands, or bots, it's party time

Another wrench in the machinery (last pun, really) is that the movie ineffectively tries to appeal to both adults and kids. The screenwriters mistakenly assume kid humor equals fart jokes and adult humor equals sexual euphemisms instead of just relying on an increasing complexity of jokes. And as fun as he is, Robin Williams is allowed to get away with too many out-of-place lines like "Inside you is a big fashion model waiting to throw up" and "You can bunk with me. We'll ignore the gossip."

Still, the film is a fun ride with plenty of laughs, excitement and touching moments about living out your dreams no matter your make, model or build. Both kids and adults will enjoy the film even though it doesn't consistently fire on all cylinders (sorry, couldn't help it).

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What is the biggest lesson Rodney learns in the movie? How about Big Weld? Or Rodney's Dad?

  2. Why do you think Big Weld has been gone for so long? Why do you think he comes back to help Rodney?

  3. Which do we hear more often: "If you are made of new parts or used parts, you can shine no matter what," or "Why be you when you can be new?" How are those messages conveyed today? How does the Bible respond to both?

  4. Could the "outmodes" have done anything to prove they were okay being themselves other than fight back violently? What?

Article continues below

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Rated PG for some brief language and suggestive humor, Robots doesn't have any swearing but a lot of sexual euphemisms playing with words like "oiled," "screwed," and "making a baby." There's a lot of flatulence and jokes (some even sexual) about one female character's large rear-end. The film also includes some scary situations including a hell-like chop shop and war violence that includes sharp weapons.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 03/17/05

Robots, the new animated feature from the makers of Ice Age, was a well-oiled box office machine, earning $36 million in its first weekend—but falling short of the March record set by Ice Age in 2002 ($46.3 million).

The movie features spectacular digital animation, and characters voiced by Ewan McGregor, Mel Brooks, Halle Bery, Greg Kinnear, and Robin Williams. McGregor plays Rodney Copperbottom, a robotic inventor in a world of robots who travels to meet his hero, Bigweld (Brooks). Along the way, he falls for a pretty executive (Berry), gets in trouble with a tyrannical corporate bigwig (Kinnear), and a motley crew of robots called "the Rusties."

Todd Hertz (Christianity Today Movies) says these bots could have used a tune-up: "While entertaining, Robots almost feels like a mechanical exercise …in how to make an entertaining family film instead of relying on innovative storytelling to create magic like CG powerhouses The Incredibles and Shrek 2 accomplished. The result is an enjoyable movie you laugh with, cheer on, and even tear up during—but once you leave the theater, not much of it sticks with you."

"It's a high grade of clever, and I enjoyed it a lot," raves Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films). "Robots combines the visionary alternate world-building of Monsters, Inc., the flair for gadgetry and gimmickry of an old Fleishers cartoon, and most sneakily of all, the toybox nostalgia of the Toy Story movies, with cleverly worked-in toy and game references—Operation, Slinky, Wheelo—that will have adults grinning with recognition. The story … is a familiar one, but offers some great character design … and terrific action sequences."

But Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says the film is inappropriate for younger viewers. "The standard for family films has dropped so low that it is now very rare indeed to see a good, animated film which does not contain bawdy humor. [Robots] is creative and fun, and it has a nice message. [But] as a parent—and a diehard Southern Girl who believes in decorum—I won't be taking my child to see Robots. I truly do not know when flatulence became an appropriate object of discussion—much less a bottom-line requirement for children's films." ("Bottom-line." Nice pun.)

Article continues below

Kevin Miller (Joy of Movies) wasn't discouraged by the bawdiness. He says Robots is on par with the best of Pixar. "Robots is a spectacular film. Not since Monsters, Inc. have I been as delighted and amazed at an animated feature. So why is Robots so great? I greeted each new scene with joyful expectation, because it was bound to be jammed full of so many little nuggets and inside jokes that it would take several viewings to appreciate them all. You got the sense that the filmmakers had thought of everything, and it is precisely this attention to detail that made the worlds of Nemo and Monsters feel so real. I was spellbound that someone could even conceive of such a comprehensive, multi-layered world like this one, much less make it move, talk, and sing."

Frederica Matthewes-Green (National Review) says the "good looks" aren't enough. "Towards the end of Robots, a character resembling the Tin Man of Oz clutches his chest and says, 'Now I know I have a heart, because I can feel it breaking.' Better check again. This animated feature has just about every pounding, clanking, or squeaking mechanism imaginable, but nothing in the shape of a heart. What it's mostly got going for it is an extraordinary look…. Yet despite the visual achievement, the film is essentially cold. It feels like the writers and director picked out a few Pixar movies …and took them apart frame by frame, trying to figure out the formula. First they knew they needed an inspiring message so, spin the dial, how about 'Believe in yourself'?"

Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) calls it "technically dazzling but disappointingly formulaic …undermined by a merely serviceable script which substitutes some needlessly vulgar humor and a pat follow-your-dream sentiment for true wit and originality."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The jokes and sight gags come fast and furious … too fast to register them all with a single viewing. And yet there isn't much else that compels one to sit through the film for a second time. There are a number of clever moments but too often the film relies on the kind of bathroom humor that requires no wit or intelligence."

Article continues below

Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "Robots builds in a few sly sexual innuendoes and occasional potty humor. (And the climactic battle is dizzying and intense.) But it's set in a visually stunning, richly imaginative world where the virtues of loyalty, courage and perseverance get strong play. It contains bucketfuls of positive messages about accepting people despite their differences, helping the downtrodden, standing up to bullies and doing the right thing despite inconvenience and even danger."

Mainstream critics are responding with more praise than complaints.

from Film Forum, 03/24/05

Andrew Coffin (World) says Robots compares to Pixar movies "pretty well—but cut out the credits and it's still clear this is no Pixar release. For one thing, look at the rating. The Incredibles was the first Pixar movie to receive a PG rating—and that was for 'action violence.' No mention of 'suggestive humor.' Robots doesn't take things especially far, certainly not to the level of Shrek, but the occasional crudity or innuendo just feels cheap, easy, and unnecessary."

Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for some brief language and suggestive humor)
Directed By
Chris Wedge, Carlos Saldanha
Run Time
1 hour 31 minutes
Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks
Theatre Release
March 11, 2005 by Blue Sky Studios
Browse All Movie Reviews By: