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In 2090, Madonna returns in robot form for an "Express Yourself" remix.

© 2005, 20th Century Fox
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Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) has dreamt his whole life of leaving his small town and parents (warmly played by Stanley Tucci and Dianne Wiest) and traveling to Robot City, where he could join forces with the iconic entrepreneur Big Weld (Mel Brooks), become an inventor and help robots everywhere. Upon arrival, the reality is far darker: Big Weld has been muscled out by a corporate stooge (Greg Kinnear), and nobody wants to hear about Rodney's dreams. Falling in with a group of forgotten, junkyard robots, led by Fender (Robin Williams), Rodney finds a home, and endeavors to change his dire situation around when his learns evil plans for all robots are afoot.

"Robots" (IMDb listing) represents the latest in the Shrekification of family entertainment. Want a good quality story told with care and tenderness? Look elsewhere, because only endless puns and forced morals are to be found in "Robots." This stale CG animated film is a perfect example of a format that needs some new ideas quickly.

While not a product of Shrek's studio, DreamWorks, "Robots" might as well have been. Basted in the same tired, self-referential writing and suffocating reliance on celebrity voice casting as the ogre moneymaker, "Robots" doesn't serve up many fresh ideas during its agonizingly labored 80-minute running time. Even worse is Robin Williams, who was brought to the film to provide some needed improvisational laughs, just like he did years ago in Disney's "Aladdin," yet seems incapable of making a single gag funny here. If you can think of anything cinematically worse than watching the viciously talented Williams floundering around the film swinging for the fences with his jokes, yet failing to connect even once, I would love to hear it.

Part of the problem is in the method of animating the title characters. While the CG animation from Blue Sky Productions ("Ice Age") is technically top notch, the robot world is inherently inexpressive, which stifles the film's cartoon nature and relentless need to please. It might be sacrilege to say, but the "Robots" story would've been much better served in traditional 2-D animation, which could allow these creations of metal and bolts to communicate the comedic and emotional freedom that 3-D just doesn't present. The production is too busy thinking of ways to inject puns like "Britney Gears" into the film, as well as meticulously animating rust on these characters, to really understand that their film is slowly dying from a lack of inspiration. What else suggests a complete surrender of effort, imagination, and skill better than an extended flatulence joke between all the metallic characters?

All is not lost, however, with "Robots" creatively detailing the Robot City world with its towering skyscrapers, floating commuter transport, and the film's best sequence, featuring Rodney and Fender in a metal ball being thrown around the city in an elaborate Rube Goldbergian version of a taxi cab. These scenes work because they rely solely on extensive visuals, preventing any of the characters from ruining the effect by actually speaking or furthering whatever plot this film calls its own.

"Robots" eventually whimpers to a finish, but not before a woefully overblown action climax featuring Fender using his dance skills to fight off the bad guys (a desperate and nonsensical idea that works better in conception than in presentation). By this time, "Robots" has crumbled into white noise, and joins the ranks of "Shark Tale," "Ice Age," and "Shrek" in using innovative animation technology to render stories and jokes that have no life or lasting legacy to them.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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