Mechanical misfit movie boasts simple story, complex gags

All that Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) wanted was to make his father proud. After the ailing dishwashing droid needs a part replaced, Rodney takes it upon himself to gain the services of big-hearted, big-bottomed boss bot Bigweld, who has mysteriously gone into hiding. With the help of an eclectic cast of misfit machines, Rodney challenges cash-hungry executive Ratchet to help out the lower class.

Did “Robots” keep me riveted to my seat? No. But it was hardly the rusty remains of other films that other critics claimed it was.

“Robots” has the unique feel of being a throwback sort of film with cutting edge technology. This is not a film that is necessarily meant to be interpreted and constantly appreciated by adults. Sometimes, kids just need movies for themselves. “Robots” is an example of this.

However, Rodney’s adventures are not without some sly winks to the older-than-eight crowd. Most of the grown-up gags are featured in the background or left in subtle dialogue. Pay particular attention to the bathroom doors in one scene – rather than have him/her images on the placards, we instead are given pictures of a plug and a wall socket to digest. Hmm. Male and female electric appliances. Stick one in the other … now do you get it? Children definitely wouldn’t get these references, hence why I find it ridiculous that the film was lambasted over this subject.

Put simply, this film is not “The Incredibles” or “Finding Nemo.” The humor is not as sharp as the superhero family flick or as cute and bubbly as the oceanic odyssey. The storyline for “Robots” is simple: a boy follows his dream to save his dad and overcomes upper-class schemes to save the day. No, it’s not original – but it is timeless and when combined with the dynamic, vibrant colors and shapes of the computer graphics, it can be considered tolerable.

McGregor is one of my favorite actors and here he loses his Scottish brogue to sound more boyish and youthful, effectively breathing life into Rodney. Mel Brooks is perfect as his larger-than-life inventor idol, as is Stanley Tucci. The comparison in voices (Brooks’ loud, abrasive and theatrical voice versus the subdued, placid voice of Tucci) is a credit to the casting director. The rest of the supporting cast gets very little time to chat- Halle “Anything is better than ‘Catwoman'” Berry, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, Dianne Wiest and company. But keep your ears tuned – names like Al Roker, James Earl Jones, Paul Giamatti, Terry Bradshaw and Jay Leno drop by for a line or two.

The reason why all other characters take a backseat is because of the indomitable, uncontrollable force that is known as Robin Williams. Some people complain that the man tries too hard – and in some ways he does. Some of his one-liners, as Rodney’s sidekick and friend Fender, seem forced and flat. However, his voice is a needed high-octane jolt to keep the post-pubescent crowd awake and alert.

As for incongruities and strange inclusions: can someone explain to me the obsession with cross-dressing in this film? Rodney gets his female cousin’s parts for high school and Fender spends the last 20 minutes of the movie dressed like a Valykrie. Maybe it’s Robin Williams. Seriously! Reference material: “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Birdcage,” “To Wong Foo”…

And somehow, I didn’t think Jim Broadbent could turn in a performance any stranger than Zidler in “Moulin Rouge,” but here he plays a crabby, possessive mother robot. And to think this guy won an Oscar.

My primary problem with this film was that it did in fact fall prey to many stereotypes where other recent “family” films did not. There were no Britney Spears references in “The Incredibles.” “Toy Story” did not focus on fart jokes for most of its laughs. Even the company that produced “Robots” knew what it was doing with “Ice Age.” Here, the film may have been too focused on winning over children. They’re little adults – we may as well treat them with respect and give them quality stories and laughs.

All in all, “Robots” was an enjoyable, quick and painless flick that had me chuckling in both frustration and also genuine amusement. Too bad Rodney couldn’t have fixed some of the rusty jokes and plot points.