- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2005

Our collective luck has run out on computer-animated features. Last year’s “Shark Tale” was the warning sign, an exhaustively prepared feature that looked as good as “Shrek” and “Ice Age” but possessed only a fraction of their appeal.

Now comes “Robots,” which carries the “Shark Tale” formula to its sad — and unavoidable — conclusion.

Give the minds behind “Robots” some credit. They meant well and clearly broke a sweat bringing their animation to candy-colored life.

Adults will walk away woozy from all the minutely detailed figures and whirling gadgets. Children will plug in, no doubt, but it’s unlikely that any of our tin-plated heroes will nestle into their hearts.

“Robots” opens with an unnecessary but attractive set piece letting us watch proud parents the Copperbottoms build their new offspring from a starter kit. Making the baby is the most fun — wink, wink — as they assemble their son, Rodney, from the instruction booklet.

So far, so cutesy, but when Rodney grows up and plans on being an inventor, we’re forced to follow him to Robot City, where he pursues his mechanized dreams. (The gadget-centric names, from Robot City to Rivet Town, are strangely devoid of comic imagination. They make Fred Flintstone’s hometown of Bedrock sound like inspired wordplay.)

Rodney tries to meet Big Weld (Mel Brooks), an avuncular inventor and hero whose visage can be seen throughout the city. But Big Weld is in forced retirement, letting a despicable ‘bot named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear) run the company with an iron fist.

When we first see, or rather hear, Mr. Kinnear, hopes perk up that “Robots” has found its voice. The self-satisfied actor is perfect for a lip-smacking baddie, but his character is buried in the avalanche of gags and visual effects.

Rodney won’t be deterred from pitching his new wonder gadget, a device that malfunctions at every turn. He’s aided, reluctantly at first, by a ne’er-do-well robot named Fender (Robin Williams) and his fellow outmodes, a ragtag group of robots who need spare parts denied by Ratchet and company.

The roster of A-listers behind the detailed figures impresses, but why recruit Halle Berry when her character has so little chance to shine?

Mr. Williams provokes a few chortles with a performance that will probably fill a DVD bonus disc with outtakes and asides, but with Mr. Williams, less is so often more.

The same can be said of “Robots.” Take the extended mass-transit set piece early on, which plays out like a crazed game of the children’s classic Mouse Trap. It’s all jury-rigged spectacle with no magic or logic behind it.

Digital wizardry alone does not a classic make. All the zeroes and ones in the world can’t rouse us from our seats if the story itself is made of lead.

**

WHAT: “Robots”

RATING: PG (comic-style violence and adolescent humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. Screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes

WEB SITE: www.robotsmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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