dir: Chris Wedge & Carlos Saldanha
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For every great idea, person, creation, there is not just its probable opposite, but also its poor cousin. The lame pretender to the throne, the wannabe, the also-ran. It incorporates enough elements of the quality version to be recognisable, but leaves out the essentials that make the great one great.
For every Kubrik there is a Spielberg. For every Tilda Swinton there is a Cate Blanchett. Each Russell Crowe spawns multiple Colin Farrells. And, in the animated feature stakes, Pixar has its pretenders in the form of the companies that make their magic for the likes of Fox and Dreamworks SKG.
Pixar is the top of the heap, the peak, the bee’s knees and the best at what they do in this shitty part of the universe at least. None of the other companies, especially Disney proper, are still able to marry the animation technologies with decent stories. As Pixar has (had) its relationship with Disney, so too does Blue Sky with Fox, as does (I think) Pacific Data Images for Dreamworks. Blue Sky was previously responsible for Ice Age, which is easily the worst of the computer-animated movies that have come out to date. It was dull and had a boring, laboured story to tell. When you compare it to quality fare like the Toy Story flicks, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and even the Shrek films (neither of which I think are that good, but good goddamn did they make an embarrassing amount of money), they’ve come a distant third thus far.
Robots might represent a change in their fortunes, since it has (as any computer-animated flick seems to need to) incredibly advanced tech hardware and software at work. The imagery is incredible, the detail phenomenal and the action looks amazing. The robots themselves look fantastic, both in the way that most of them seem to be based on the design aesthetics of kitchen appliances from the 50s and 60s, but are also rendered in a solid, truly physical way. They can do incredible things with surfaces, with textures and shaders, light; all of it looks fantastic. It’s just a fucking shame that the story used as the basis for all of this is so goddamn mundane.
The story doesn’t have to be anything too avant-garde or original to impress me. Finding Nemo didn’t really have that innovative a story, but it looked great, was pretty funny, had Bill Hunter’s voice in it, and was overall pretty entertaining. The same goes for most of the other flicks that Pixar has been responsible for. I don’t really expect companies that invest squillions of dollars in these endeavours to ever go for a story about an aging goth writer who spends his nights getting drunk, watching movies and writing reviews that five people read in some pathetic attempt at being heard in a cold, cold world. That probably wouldn’t pack the kids in, there’s no merchandising opportunities and it would have to be rated R for all the scenes of sex and vomiting. At the same time, unfortunately.
I’m sure they could do amazing things with technology to render the broken veins, the enlarged pores, the sallow skin and the bleary eyed madness, but the story wouldn’t be that strong. And it would have to be sternly pornographic and puritanical at the same time.
It would still have more to give and make more audience members moist in the gusset region than this dour story where Hollywood again tells us that we should follow our dreams and make our parents proud. I don’t have to be told to follow my dreams. Not by some massive corporation that manufactures tired cliches into shiny new forms to make up for the fact that most people out there are too bereft of imagination or intellect to think up any original ideas for themselves.
Still, this mildly diverting flick does look good. It’s not a complete waste of time or eyeball juice. If you can block out Robin William’s voice as well and pretend it’s not happening whenever his annoying character speaks then you might even find the flick enjoyable.
I did, but then there were times I would drift off and think about other stuff, come back to my senses but have difficulty remembering what the flick was about. At 90 minutes it’s short and sweet, but it really did feel pointless.
Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan MacGregor) is a young robot who’s good with a wrench and styles himself as a bit of an inventor genius. The evidence of this is represented solely by having him invent a little bot that does whatever the story requires at any given time. It’s almost a magical little robot. He lives in the little burg of Rivet Town (so he’s a small town guy) who dreams of travelling to the big city and working with the robot that is his god and inspiration, Bigweld (Mel Brooks).
The rest you can predict for yourself, down to whether there is a happy ending or whether the ‘hero’ is cast into a vat full of hydrochloric acid and semen where he dies a horrifically unhygienic death. I remember everything that happened, but I almost can’t believe how generic and bland the story is.
There are gags which are aimed at adults, which either fly by you because they’re so nondescript, or are little more than mildly amusing. The visual gags are better than any of what they think passes for witty little single entendres. Most of the stuff with Robin Williams ranges from mildly amusing to irritating. That’s the whole gamut of comedic possibilities right there. Then there a bunches of gags only a 5 year old child or a patient in a persistent vegetative state who’s had the feeding tubes removed could possibly find funny. Who knew that robots, lacking digestive systems, who live entirely in a world of robot constructions (no organics allowed, just like in South Yarra), could be so fixated on farting or could even do it or know what it is. But it’s there. There are like 5 continuous minutes devoted to the art and appreciation of it, as well as a recurring character who specialises in this particular art form. Maybe it was supposed to be funny solely because they’re fart jokes: the simple fact of them is funny enough. Well I disagree. They need work to be funny. If they’d incorporated it into a scene where someone is getting head and lets rip with a barrage of biological warfare, then maybe I would have had a chuckle or two. As it stood through most of those kinds of bits, I was sitting there either daydreaming or with that stony-faced, pursed lips expression that you imagine most Liberal voters go through life with.
The city itself is a better character than any other’s provided. Robot City is what you’d expect it to be, but even more so. They put oodles of effort into getting the grand scale of the city right. It also has a public transport system of incredible invention and grand elaboration. Every review of this pic not aimed at FHM or Ralph readers mentions Rube Goldberg-type systems being used throughout the film, but I’m not sure that all of them know what it means, they’re just saying it because every other review mentions it. The whole point of those Rube Goldberg inventions, or at least the fantastical drawings thereof was the antithesis of streamlined or logical design. In the era when mechanistic thinking was being applied to how people should do their jobs or how processes should occur for greater efficiency (mass production), those drawings were a powerful antidote. They took the most illogical steps, the least efficient ways and most convoluted representations of how to do something because, for lack of a more cogent or succinct term, they looked cool. They were a humanist reaction to post-industrial society. Ultimately I’m just trying to say that the system that launches Rodney all over the city is way cool too.
The villains of the story are an Oedipal mother and son team, Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) and Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent) who dream pretty much of destroying all the cool looking robots and replacing them all with shiny ones that all look like silver dildos. Their motivation makes very little sense as characters, but I feel like a wanker anyway for even mentioning the motivation of computer generated characters in animated films.
The plot is superfluous and forgettable except in the sense that some of the story seems to be a dig at Microsoft. The unethical practices of the company that supplies the city’s citizens with spare parts seem to mirror those of the software giant. And it’s not like it’s subtle; the villains keep screaming about upgrades until the point is finally bludgeoned home through your skull’s thick outer layers and you get it.
I forgot the flick minutes after walking out, and I doubt anyone else will love it that much either. It’s a pretty piss poor contender when compared to The Incredibles, which had a greater sense of fun, more laughs and a more interesting story (though it definitely wasn’t free of clichés). The other major distinction between Robots and Pixar’s last foray was that the movie isn’t going to stink like month-old fish in a few year’s time. What passes for current pop culture references in this flick and other shite like Shark’s Tale and Shrek 2 make them seem awfully dated even today. Really, having a fight sequence where a robot decides to break into song and has Britney Spears awful voice impinge upon the action is stupid. Talk about up-to-the-minute references with biting social commentary. I’d love to hit her one more time, but I don’t want to have to fucking hear about it ever again.
Apart from the representation of the robots themselves, the city and the transport (which is only slightly less dangerous than Melbourne’s anyway), there were a few moments that tickled my fancy. A trip to the area beneath the city opens up a hell of robotic proportions and dimensions. This first trip has Tom Waits singing about the underworld on the soundtrack, which, for a flick of this nature, is wonderful. Usually it’s nothing but Randy Newman, Elton John and Paul ‘I’ll give you the fucking Sounds of Silence’ Simon in these animated flicks. There were also two scenes with a robot doing The Robot, as in a breakdancing robot, which amused me, and I’m not easily amused. Other than that I kept saying to myself ‘Well at least the graphics are nice’. And right now I can’t remember a single piece of dialogue except for treacly abominations exhorting our main character to follow their dreams. For fuck’s sake…
Unlike the best of these flicks this probably is the kind of animated movie you’d see only if you were taking a kid along as opposed to going to it for your own entertainment. But make sure it’s a kid you don’t like.
6 times you’ll pray that Robin Williams one day finds a new shtick out of 10
‘Inside of you, there's a model just waiting to throw up.’ Fender - Robots