As a father of two, I consider myself an expert on children's movies. Over the last seven years, I have endured and occasionally enjoyed the evolution of computer animated feature-length films, most of which are made for kids. From Toy Story to Monsters, Inc., Shrek to Finding Nemo, Ice Age to The Incredibles, I have seen these films not once, but many times, thanks to the wonder of modern DVD technology. While some are a joy to view over and over, others tire after a few showings. By and large, the big animation studios Pixar, Dreamworks, Fox (Blue Sky Studios), Warner Bros. and Disney (who is now doing animated movies on their own, separate from Pixar), do a good job.
So how can I start out nice about Robots? I was amazed. I was astonished. I was overawed ... with the utter crap I was viewing on the screen. The plot was a piece of recycled rat meat-a repackaged story straight out of A Bug's Life and every other animated epic from the last 10 years. The studio describes Robots as, "In a world populated entirely by robots, this is the story of a young genius, Rodney, who wants to make robots capable of making the world a better place, but he finds his dream challenged by a corporate tyrant and a master inventor ..." Blah, blah, blah.
While many animated features throw in references to other older movies to have little gems for adult viewers (usually going over the head of the children), there are those films that do it well and there are those that do it poorly. In the case of Robots, they do it quite badly, if not the worst I've ever seen.
Scenes stolen directly from other movies were sometimes referenced, most of the time not. Jaw-dropping bad scenes included a robot (Robin Williams) singing "Singin' in the Oil" as ripped-off from Singing in the Rain, the light saber scene in Star Wars Episode 2 between Yoda and the evil Count Dooku, a complete spoof of Braveheart, stealing of the original city plans and look from the first science fiction movie ever, Metropolis, a WWF ring in the final fight scene (the idea stolen either from WWF or Shrek), a spoofing of Britney Spears (which I'll let slide), to blocking direct from the factory scene in Monsters, Inc. What is the point of including all this in a children's film that goes so far over the heads of the intended audience? Not only that, but doing it poorly?
Even the formula for the soundtrack was stolen from other movies. You can just imagine the music director saying, "Hmmm, lets get a dash of a popular young pop band, Fountains of Wayne. Get those funky Blue Man Group guys because they're hip and robot-like, and some hip-hop artists to pull in the ghetto kids, and a couple of oldie-but-goodies like James Brown and "Low Rider" and throw in a Tom Waits tune, too, 'cause he was, like, in Shrek also, wasn't he?"
Arrrghhhhhhh! I wanted to scratch my eyes and ears out.
Another warning sign was from the extensive celebrity voice list. Characters voiced by Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Greg Kinnear, Drew Carey, Dan Hedaya, Jennifer Coolidge, Jim Broadbent, D.L. Hughley, Paul Giamatti, Amanda Bynes, Stanley Tucci and the worst of the lot, Robin Williams. There was only one movie where Robin Williams did a good character voice and that was Aladdin. Since then he's been doing the same manic coked-out schtick. I have a theory, which we'll call Bingo's Law, that the more celebrities an animated movie has to have voicing the characters, the worse it will be. By such measurement, Robots should not even be worthy of going directly to video.
And I had such high hopes. The creators of Robots, Blue Sky Studios working for FOX, also produced Ice Age, which wasn't too bad. It suffered a little from a weak plot, too, but it was a promising first movie for Blue Sky. Robots sets Blue Sky back to the ice age as far as movies go. You would have to recreate the scene out of A Clockwork Orange, complete with eyelid stretchers and restraints, to make me sit through Robots again.
On the other hand, while I didn't like the movie at all, the spawn wanted to go out and buy the DVD immediately before the credits even ended. They also wanted to buy the toys, action figures, trading cards, video games, posters, books and happy meals (Burger King got the bid for toys in kids meals this go round). Essentially they wanted to buy anything associated with the movie, easy to do since merchandising magically appeared everywhere like Christmas items after Halloween. Moviegoers nationwide seemed to like it too. Robots garnered the top movie spot last week with its opening weekend revenue of $36.5 million on 3,776 screens, a little below the average $42 million for an animated feature opening, but still impressive.
Reports say it has already grossed $150 million in promotional tie-ins alone, twice what the film cost to produce. Everyone wants a piece of Robots. Even Cold Stone Creamery is sporting a new flavor called "Rodney Copperbottom's Crazy Crackling Cotton Candy Concoction" and the U.S. Postal Service plans to theme its cancellation stamps with Robots characters on three billion envelopes.
So, we must ask, what is the point of studios putting out movies that are already a financial success before they're even shown in one theater? Ultimately, for a nation sedated by chemical prozac sprayed from military planes in the sky, it doesn't matter what kind of crap is put in front of the consuming public, we'll eat it up anyway. Ironically, the moral presented in Robots provides the alternative solution to seeing this horribly bad movie: Don't go out and get the new new thing, enjoy old things in new ways instead.