Robots (2005)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V-2 ; L-1 ; S/N-1

Robots

Then he left the crowds and went into the house.
And his disciples approached him, saying,
‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’
37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;
the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom;
the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil;
the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.
Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers,
and they will throw them into the furnace of fire,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Let anyone with ears listen!

Matthew 13:36-43

Robots should delight fans of Ice Age, the same director Chris Wedge returning, with co-director Carlos Saldanha, to create an entire world inhabited by robots. The screen is filled with eye-grabbing action as we see a huge city filled with activity (Rodney’s train ride and then his trip across Robot City are eye-popping!). To the big metropolis has come young Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor), a Thomas Edison-like inventor who dreams of creating inventions that will be of benefit to robot-kind. He has left his loving parents in Rivet City to seek his fortune in Robot City where he hopes to find work with the greatest inventor of the age—Bigweld (Mel Brooks).

The first “person” Rodney meets when he alights from the train is Fender (Robin Williams, almost as manic as in Aladdin), who tries to sell Rodney one of the photos he has been snapping. Fender, who is prone to accidents, is like one of those hustlers one encounters in a Third World country: he will not be shooed away, becoming the uninvited guide for the newcomer. Rodney finds himself challenged at the entrance of Big Weld Industries by an officious guard, but finally manages to gain entrance. However the industry founder, Bigweld, is nowhere to be found, and no one is interested in Rodney’s inventions.

The corporation is being run by Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a greedy entrepreneur driven by his mother Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent) to milk as much profit as possible out of the corporation’s sales. They have changed the old corporate logos from “You can shine no matter what you’re made of!” to “Why be you when you can be new?” Their intention is to profit through planned obsolescence: no longer will replacement parts be available for robots like Fender, in need of repairs. Older, out-moded robots, derisively called “Rusties,” are to be swept up by Big Weld’s giant street sweepers and taken to a Dante’s Inferno-like chop slop for dismantling or destruction in huge furnaces.

Rodney befriends some of the Rusties and also becomes smitten by a corporate robot, Cappy (Halle Berry). Eventually finding Bigweld (Mel Brooks), who seems to have lost his zest and has been forced by Ratchet into retired obscurity. Rodney and the friends whom he makes, including a group of misfits who have been resisting the giant corporation’s program, heads a rebellion that will restore Big Weld Industries to its former benevolent state.

The producers gathered a galaxy of stars for major and minor speaking roles. Besides those already mentioned, the voice cast includes Stanley Tucci, Jennifer Coolidge, Paul Giamatti, Drew Carey, Amanda Bynes, and Dianne Wiest, and cameos by Jay Leno, Dan Hedaya, James Earl Jones, the “Today Show’s” Al Roker, plus Stephen Tobolowsky, and Terry Bradshaw. I am looking forward to watching this on video, not only to catch all the background and action missed the first time, but also to figure out who is voicing whom.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) The film gives us no clue as to how the world of the robots got started, or what happened to its human (?) creators. You or your group members might want to dream up a “Creation Story.” 2) Which character attracts you the most, or do you identify with? Why?

3) How is Rodney’s quest to find Big Weld similar to that of Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz? Or, what does their discovery about the persons they are seeking have in common? Have you experienced a similar moment of disillusionment when you met someone you had admired for a long time?

4) Compare the two slogans for Big Weld Corporation: “You can shine no matter what you’re made of!” and “Why be you when you can be new?” 5) How is the film subversive of our cultural/business values? How or where do you see the Rachets at work in our society? How are they especially working on the young and building in them dissatisfaction with the old and a deep desire for the new and novel? This could become an interesting project: check out TV and magazine ads, especially those aimed at children. How have “new” and “improved” become an essential pitch for advertising?

6) Here is another of what could be an enjoyable exercise: divide the group into threes or fours and ask them to rewrite Jesus’ Parable of the Seed and Soils in Matt. 13, using the characters in the film. How does Jesus’ promise in verse 43 relate to the original slogan of the Big Weld Corporation? Who in the film are the good and the bad soils? How do you see this parable and film applying to your part of the world?