Standard for Family Films Drops Even Lower with "Robots"
- Thursday, March 10, 2005
Release Date: March 11, 2005
Rating: PG (for some brief language and suggestive humor)
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha
Actors: Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Robin Williams, Greg Kinnear, Mel Brooks, Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes, Jim Broadbent, Jennifer Coolidge, Paul Giamatti, Carson Daly, Conan O’Brien
Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) is like most young men who’ve been raised by loving parents. He’s confident, idealistic and full of dreams. So when Rodney decides to leave small-town Rivet Town for the metropolis of Robot City, it comes as no surprise to his father, Herb (Stanley Tucci). In fact, Herb tells Rodney, he always dreamed of being a musician, but instead gave into his father’s advice and got a job – as a dishwasher. Ever since, that dream has haunted Herb, especially now that he’s just a washed up set of washers, with no hope of spare parts in sight.
Rodney, on the other hand, is an inventor, and Herb just knows that if he can get to Mr. Big Weld (Mel Brooks), the best robot in the world and founder of Bigweld Industries, he can make his all dreams come true. After all, Mr. Big Weld’s motto is, “You can shine, no matter what you’re made of” – and Rodney’s got a pretty spiffy invention that he calls ‘Wonderbot.’
When Rodney arrives, he discovers that Mr. Big Weld is nowhere to be found, having disappeared and been mysteriously replaced by Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a corporate CEO with big plans for Robot City – and himself. Driven by his evil mother (Jim Broadbent) who controls a fiery underworld, Ratchet is planning to maximize profits and enrich the company by rounding up all the spare parts and destroying them, at the expense of the aging and underprivileged robots. His goal? To force everyone to buy new parts – or suffer the fate of the chop shop. His new motto says it all: “Why be you when you can be new?”
After arriving in Robot City, Rodney quickly makes friends and sees lots of interesting inventions, but when all the rusty, broken-down robots discover his handyman skills, his popularity skyrockets. Soon, Rodney is running a business fixing up old robots. It comes to Ratchet’s attention, and he makes plans to get rid of Rodney and his mechanically-challenged friends. This, in turn, forces Rodney to do the only thing he can – go in search of Mr. Big Weld.
Director Chris Wedge (“Bunny,” “Ice Age”) has won awards for his work, so it’s not surprising that he’s put together a creative film that highlights the wonder of mechanical inventions. From the beginning, “Robots” enthralls us with its visuals, and its dialogue zings with cute one-liners about nuts, bolts and scrap metal. For example, Herb Copperbottom misses the “delivery” of his son, Rodney. “That’s okay,” his wife says, holding up the box. “It’s putting him together that’s the best part.” Rodney’s trip on the Cross Town Express is a brilliant hodgepodge of pulleys and gravity-defying tricks sure to leave many a kid fascinated with mechanical engineering. There’s also a great domino trick near the end of the film – which is fun, but may not be so career-inspiring.
Less witty are the puns that have become de rigeur for animated comedy – a host of shops, restaurants and offices that all bear names connected to the film’s theme. In this case, we get a restaurant called “The Rusty Nail” and an exercise studio named “Steele Buns.” All of the actors do a great job – particularly McGregor, Kinnear and Broadbent. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much from Halle Berry, as Cappy, the female executive who supports Rodney’s ideas. And, as usual, we hear a little too much from Robin Williams, whose over-the-top humor as Fender, Rodney’s friend, grows positively grating as the film progresses.
The film’s message – that dreams are important to pursue and are worthy goals for parents to support – is a good one. Also important is the film’s focus on the importance of creativity, innovation and individuality, especially in an extreme-makeover-obsessed world where services, rather than goods, tend to be most prized.
Unfortunately, “Robots” also contains several child-inappropriate situations and comments. In one extended scene, the characters all compete for the loudest flatulence, only to be defeated by a female character with an extremely large rear end named “Aunt Fanny” (which they also joke about earlier in the film). I truly do not know when flatulence became an appropriate object of discussion – much less a bottom-line requirement for children’s films. Other disappointing elements include some cross-gender jokes, like Rodney wearing a girl’s “chest” (complete with breasts) as a spare part and an evil female character with a man’s voice (and who is mistaken for a man, despite her huge breasts), along with the occasional bad-taste comment, like a beggar whose sign reads, “I got screwed.”
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. This makes movies like “The Incredibles” all the more exceptional. So, as with other “family” films that have vulgar content, I must give this one a mixed review. It is creative and fun, and it has a nice message. And, compared to adult films, its inappropriateness is minimal. But they’re hardly the standard for decency.
As a parent – and a diehard Southern Girl who believes in decorum – I won’t be taking my child to see “Robots.” I can understand why others won’t want to, either. A big disappointment.
AUDIENCE: Children and adults
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: None
- Language/Profanity: Several jokes about a woman’s rear end (including her name, “Aunt Fanny”) and an entire scene that revolves around flatulence.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Woman talks in a man’s voice and is confused with a man; beggar sits on sidewalk and holds sign that says, “Got screwed;” parent “forgets” to attach a part to make a robot a “baby boy” and does so, off-screen, while baby’s eyes widen in surprise; boy needs “hand-me-downs” while growing up and is forced to wear the bust of a female (his cousin) throughout high school; woman refers to her “Brazilian wax;” character drops his pants in surprise (we see underwear); male character asks about a female character with “the sweet keester” (clearly meaning, her huge rear end).
- Violence: Several scenes in a dark “underworld” style place where robots are sent into a fiery abyss and destroyed, under the auspices of an evil woman; the husband of this woman is strung up on chains in an apparent torture mode; robots are fearful of and run from the “sweepers,” which scoop them up and take them to the “chop shop” to be destroyed.
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