Robots were due for a comeback. In the scientific world, creatures made of metallic bits may have been replaced by ones with electronic bytes, but computers just don't have the charm of the anthropomorphized tin men from science-fiction past. To borrow a line from A Mighty Wind, they're so retro, they're now-tro. Will Smith proved that last year with I, Robot. Now the CGI cartoonmakers, having run through their bug, monster, fish and human evolutionary phases, are into talking gadgets. Pixar has Cars next summer. And the Blue Sky team, which enjoyed a hit with Ice Age, is offering the busy, fizzy Robots.
Young inventor Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor) has come to Robot City to present his gadgets to revered Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks), whose company has been subverted by his underlings' plan to phase out all old robots with the ad line "Why be you when you can be new?" Rodney's allies in the good fight include feisty young Piper (Amanda Bynes) and garrulous old Fender (Robin Williams).
Rather than Pixar's popping pastels or the warm browns favored by DreamWorks in Antz and Shrek, Robots goes for a color scheme that is cool, muted, instantly aged. Director Chris Wedge wants the eye to concentrate on the gags he and his writers (including veteran comedy craftsmen Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) have stuffed into the film, like the glancing mention of a woman whose "dream is to end world rust." This will keep adults amused while the kids focus on Robot City's highway system, which is like a theme park designed by Rube Goldberg.
Beneath all the clever clangery is a moral. For a celebrity world that venerates tummy tucks, frozen faces and bosom enhancement--where the rich and famous strive for their own metallic solidity and sheen--Robots has an old-fashioned message: "You can shine no matter what you're made of." In other words: Why be new when you can be the very best you? That's a notion even humans can profit from. --By Richard Corliss