Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Three years ago, I wandered half-heartedly into a screening of 'Robots' with a friend of mine, our choice of film a second best after the preview screening of 'Constantine' that we'd got ourselves hyped over proved to be sold out.

Okay, we thought, so there's this young robot who leaves his parents and heads off for the big city, all full of dreams and ambitions, only to find that things aren't as he imagined them. But he has his friends. And he has integrity. And he has heart. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Lachrymose, morally trite kiddie-fare, right?

Au contraire. 'Robots' turned out to be the funniest, cleverest, most brilliantly realised (both narratively and visually) piece of animated film-making I'd seen since 'The Incredibles' (my immediate thought was that Blue Sky, the people behind 'Ice Age', looked set to give Pixar a run for their money). Of course, it wasn't too long before Pixar came out with 'Ratatouille' - up next in the 100 faves project - and reminded everyone who might have been remiss enough to have forgotten that they pretty define animated film-making.

But back to 'Robots' ...

The vocal cast is top-notch: Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Greg Kinnear, Robin Williams, Jim Broadbent, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes and Paul Giametti. The look of the film is fabulous: a fully integrated world of delightful retro stylisations which subtley reference everything from 'Metropolis' to 'Forbidden Planet'. The in-jokes cover just as broad a spectrum, a spot-on '2001: A Space Odyssey' send-up rubbing shoulders with any number of 'Star Wars' homages (I seem to recall that the 'Episode III' trailer was shown with 'Robots').

The narrative clips along at a fast enough pace to prevent the under-fives from getting bored, but director Chris Wedge and his screenwriters invest time in the characters, a decision that pays dividends when the idealistic Rodney Copperbottom (McGregor) and his plucky band of friends are outnumbered by the villains at the end. The climactic fight (oh yes, it may be U-rated, but 'Robots' contains scenes of "ass-whupping") is a bravura set-piece, managing to generate real tension, while at the same time firing off throwaway gags in all directions: one minute it's 'Braveheart' revisited, the next there's a Britney Spears song and dance number ... then it's back to the dust-up.

An hour and a half after slumping sullenly into our seats, me and my friend came exited the cinema beaming, in agreement that 'Robots' was a delightful, hilarious discovery. A week later we got round to seeing 'Constantine'. Oh dear, oh dear. We exited that one wondering why it is that the imagination, wit and attention to detail which Hollywood lovingly applies to films made ostensibly for children is so often absent in the productions it tailors to an adult audience.

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