Robots more or less confirms that production studio Blue Sky is likely to be remembered as the Jan to Pixar's Marcia and PDI's Cindy: The film, not unlike Ice Age, fails to tap into the magic and heart of its make-believe fantasy world the way A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc. do, and while it's certainly better than postmodern shitstorms like Shrek 2 and Shark Tale, it still sucks to be the middle child. So desperate is Blue Sky for attention that Robots is preceded by another vision of Ice Age's scene-stealing Scrat going to death-defying lengths to hoard a nut: Sadly, this half-short (which promises "to be continued"—assuming, that is, Blue Sky gets to make another film) was the most amusing thing about my Robots experience. The film proper concerns a young robot, Rodney (Ewan McGregor), who goes to the big city looking to find his true calling, along the way uncovering a plot by the tyrannical and capitalistic Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) to get rid of the city's old-school robots. Like Shark Tale, the film may be class conscious, but the revolution it televises lacks passion and philosophical meaning, muddled by the requisite fart jokes and pop-cultural references we've come to expect from these soulless CGI roller coasters. If the plot seems half-assed and the characters scarcely register, that's because Robots is yet another film that allows Robin Williams free rein over its production. The actor's lightning-fast comedic timing was a source of wonder on a recent episode of Bill Maher's Real Time, but the man's incessant need to call attention to himself is simply revolting. Just as shrill as Williams's cloying dramatic performances is his comic vaudeville, which is predicated on the same queenie affections, we-are-the-world accents, and socio-political non sequiturs familiar from countless Aladdin films, red carpet appearances, and Comic Relief specials. The good news here is that the film's backdrops and detail-work is impressive enough (look for the cute curb-your-dog sign in one shot) that even if you can't stand to look at Williams's fey robot, directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha offer ample visual alternatives.
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Fox had to deal with some mighty tricky white levels when Ice Age came to DVD, and though they delivered a handsome package, they made the mistake of stuffing widescreen and full screen versions of the film onto the same disc, which accounted for the occasional compression artifacts on display. This Robots DVD announces itself immediately as a superior product: There's no snow in the film to mess up the gorgeous rotation (save for some pulsating around small, finely-detailed objects during fast-moving scenes, this is a flawless, breathless image) and widescreen and full screen versions of the film are available in stores separately. The audio is every bit the equal of the image, but your system will have to have DTS capabilities to truly savor the sweeping aural surrounds on display.
On their commentary track, director Chris Wedge and producer William Joyce discuss how they wanted to give the robots in the film a heart and soul, something which definitely shows in the movie's best scenes: the birth and rearing of the main character and the clockwork of their hometown. Pity the rest of the film isn't as charming as these moments. (Less enjoyable is a crowded-house commentary track with something like 800 technical people from Blue Sky Studios.) Also included on the disc's treasure trove of extras are really awesome "Meet the Bots" interactive profiles, a section with games that may actually stump adults, several deleted scenes with optional commentary track, "Aunt Fanny's Tour of Booty" short, a featurette devoted to the Blue Man Group's participation in the project, the original Robots test, an Xbox promo, the "You Can Shine No Matter What You're Made Of" character inspiration featurette, a Fox promo reel, and an Inside Look at the upcoming Ice Age 2 with John Leguizamo as guide.
A hearty DVD package but strictly for that special pre-schooler and Robin Williams completist in your life.