Screens Brave new whirligig


'Robots' skips merrily over the implications of our mechanized future

Robots' narrative is based on class divisions in capitalist society, as if the Wealth of Nations' Adam Smith and Das Kapital's Karl Marx were automatons.

Recently I have been fascinated by Freud's argument concerning the end of human-centered history. In brief, Freud felt that Copernicus dealt the first blow to the then-conventional idea that the earth was the center of the Universe. We were set adrift! Then came Darwin, who moved us farther from our cosmic privilege by asserting that all animals, including humans, had common ancestry. We became animals! After swallowing this, we had to be content with our reign over our own free will, until Freud demonstrated that most of our lives are not guided by conscious will, but by irrational impulses. We became unconscious! Newer assertions conclude that the human is nothing but a machine. Or, to put it another way, humans are no better than the tools they use. We've become cyborgs!

With this in mind, I took my 5-year-old to see the computer animated film Robots. Although the film weaves a somewhat interesting narrative based on class divisions and capital-driven throwaway society, it's only lasting pleasure remains in its visual production design by William Joyce, creator of the book and cartoon series Rolie Polie Olie.

Created by Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age) with director Chris Wedge, Robots is the story of young robot Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor) who follows his dream by joining Mr. Bigweld (Mel Brooks) in fighting product-driven villains whose plan it is to scrap and melt "outmodes" who cannot afford full upgrades. Rodney hooks up with pal Fender (Robin Williams) to refuel the supply of replacements parts by ending the sole use and sale of new upgrades.


Dir. Chris Wedge; writ. David Lindsay-Abaire, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel; feat. (voices) Halle Berry, Mel Brooks, Amanda Bynes, Drew Carey, Jennifer Coolidge, Greg Kinnear, Jay Leno, Ewan McGregor (PG)
Robots is a visual treat, particularly during the scene in which Rodney and Fender are catapulted through the city inside a series of fantastic whirligigs. Later we're taken on another fabulous visual ride through a series of cascading dominos.

But I left feeling that Wedge and his screenwriters are just scratching the surface of a unique story, and should rise to the challenge of paralleling the unique visual world they create. I asked my son what he thought, and he replied, after a lengthy pause, "medium." When asked to elaborate, he replied, "I don't really like the scary parts, and I didn't really like the people." Interesting answer. My son is no stranger to "scary parts," yet I feel he is tired of the typical protagonist/antagonist plot that is spit out on our children in at least 95 percent of youth-oriented films. More interesting than the fact that he felt most of the characters were flat, is that he referred to the characters as people, never commenting on them as robots or machines. What have we become?

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