Film Preview: Robots

By Philip Murphy

Call them robots, androids or cyborgs, the fact is that man-made men (and women) have fascinated filmmakers and audiences since the dawn of cinema. From Fritz Lang’s 1926 silent masterwork Metropolis, to the wonderful Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man, and the whimsical Forbidden Planet’s Robby the Robot and, of course, Star Wars’ loyal and plucky R2-D2 and C-3PO, plus the sci-fi action flicks Blade Runner, Terminator, and the recent I Robot, moviemakers have reveled in the comic and dramatic possibilities of pitting men against machines.

Ice Age director Chris Wedge’s latest project takes a humorous slant on a world inhabited solely by robots. I spoke with the head of animation for Fox Studios, Chris Meledandri, about Robots prior to its release.

“This idea came from the minds of Chris Wedge and William Joyce,” Meledandri explains. (Joyce is the renowned author/illustrator of numerous children’s books such as Dinosaur Bob, George Shrinks and Santa Calls, who served as production designer and executive producer for Robots.) “Chris is so visual and Bill is an artist, so all these visual ideas started erupting from these guys and the story evolved from there. What Bill and Chris have done together is wholly create an imagined world,” he enthuses. Along the way, he continues, “we turned to two writers who’ve written some of the best films of the last 20 years [City Slickers, Parenthood and Splash, to name but a few], Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell. And they wrote, entirely from the perspective of the characters, a story about a robot from a small town who has big dreams and goes off to the big city to achieve them.”

Their tale centers on Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), a gifted young inventor who dreams of making the world a better place. He sets off for Robot City to meet Big Weld (Mel Brooks), the world’s greatest inventor. But life is full of detours. Upon arriving in the city Rodney discovers that Big Weld is away and in his place is a ruthless corporate suit named Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), who is running Weld’s empire. Rodney also meets a lovely executive who takes a shine to him (Halle Berry) and some misfit “‘bots,” known as The Rusties, and their leader, Fender (Robin Williams), who show him around and wise him up to life in the big city.

While Ice Age catered to a younger audience, Meledandri says Robots relies on wit, as opposed to topical references, to appeal to 6-year-olds as well as 14-year-olds and up.
Robots opens March 11 and is rated PG.

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