Just like its endearing hero, Rodney Copperbottom (voice of Ewan McGregor), this movie is assembled from hand-me-down parts but it has so much heart that it is transformed into something irresistibly fresh and downright adorable.
One of the hand-me-down parts is the country boy with a dream in the big city. There’s the classic underdog story, too, with the (literally) scrappy outsiders fighting for their rights against the rich and powerful and snobbish. Of course there’s a love story or two. And that real-life special effect Robin Williams. Just as in Aladdin, animation is the only way to give him a physical persona that can keep up with his avalanche of wisecracks and personas. Mel Brooks makes his animation character debut and it is worth seeing the movie just to hear him say the words “titanium tuchas.”
There is humor ranging from groan-worthy visual and verbal puns to low-down slapstick and subtle satire. And some roller-coastery excitement, snappy wisecracks, and music that will make you want to get up and dance. There’s a nice moral that goes beyond the usual “be true to yourself and achieve your dreams” theme of most movies for kids. There’s even a cameo appearance by that greatest of all metal men, the Tin Woodsman. It all comes together in a story that works on every level, with something for every age, with a story that is not just heartwarming but meaningful.
Brilliantly imagined by illustrator William Joyce, this movie takes place in an all-mechanical world where even the pets are robots and even the fire hydrants and mailboxes are “alive.” This movie is going to keep people glued to their DVDs, because every single shot is filled with fabulously imaginative detail, every bit of it adorably witty, wonderfully fantastic, and perfectly logical. If physics doesn’t work this way, it should.
Rodney arrives after 12 hours of labor — that’s how long it takes his robot parents to assemble him from a kit. They are loving and devoted but not wealthy. As Rodney grows up, he is assembled from hand-me-down parts, including one embarrassing year with a torso that once belonged to a teenaged girl cousin. Rodney dreams of being an inventor and making life better and easier. His hero is Bigweld (voice of Mel Brooks), who urges everyone to come up with ideas to solve problems. He welcomes new ideas at his big corporation. His slogan is, “You can shine no matter what you’re made of.”
But by the time Rodney arrives to show his invention, Bigweld is gone, replaced by Ratchet (voice of Greg Kinnear), the new president of Bigweld industries. Ratchet doesn’t want to help anyone. Pressured by his mother (voice of Jim Broadbent), he decides the company will no longer provide parts to fix old robots (“outmodes”). They will make money by making perfectly good robots feel bad about themselves so that they will order unnecessary upgrades. Their slogan will be, “Why be you when you can be new?”
So Rodney and his friends have to find a way to bring back Bigweld and make the world safe for the mutts and oddballs, especially the ones with a dream of making things better.
As often in animation, the actors provide pleasant but not very distinctive voices and the comedians steal the show. Williams, Brooks, and Jennifer Coolidge (as the appropriately-named “Aunt Fanny”) are the highlights. But the star here is the design, as much a part of the story as the plot and the characters.
Parents should know that the movie has cartoon-style peril and violence with some thrill-ride-ish special effects. Characters use some crude school-yard language and there are some potty jokes, including an extended fart joke sequence, and some mild sexual humor, including jokes about cross-dressing and “fixing” a dog.
Families who see this movie should talk about the difference between the two mottos. The “outmodes” are made out of pieces from other machines. Which ones do you recognize? How do Rodney’s and Ratchet’s ideas about helping people differ? Why doesn’t Crank want to try and what changes his mind? What’s the difference between Bigweld’s and Ratchet’s views on what a corporation should do? Why did Rodney say that the most important thing his parents gave him was believing in him? Who can you help by believing in them? If you could be an inventor like Rodney, what would you like to invent? Families might like to learn about the history of inventions and becoming an inventor.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Monsters, Inc., Ice Age, and A Bug’s Life. They will also enjoy the marvelous books by William Joyce, especially Santa Calls, Dinosaur Bob, A Day with Wilbur Robinson and Rollie Pollie Olie. Older family members might like to read the play “R.U.R” by Karel Capek, who invented the term “robot.”