dir. Wedge
Opens Fri Mar 11
Various Theaters

You don't really need to know anything about the plot of the new kids' flick, Robots, to predict what it's about. Its story is as unimaginative as its title--a likable, cutely named robot, Rodney Copperbottom (voiced by Ewan McGregor), teams up with another robot, the supposedly wacky Fender (Robin Williams); the two explore Robot City, get into misadventures, and discover an obligatory, simplistic moral. But go deeper, and Robots is even simpler--it's a risk-less, uninspired way for 20th Century Fox's animation subsidiary, Blue Sky Studios, to cash in on the Pixar-led computer animation craze.

It'd be too easy to proclaim that the only mainstream animation that's worthwhile is Pixar's--but if studios like Blue Sky don't start kicking it up a notch, that statement isn't just going to get easier, it's also going to gain credence. Robots is just lazy; as easily as you can foresee its boring plot, you can predict its characters. (Rodney's a sweet, by-the-numbers protagonist, while with Fender, the filmmakers have managed to create a character who's as annoying and unfunny as Williams himself has become.) There are plenty of too-easy kid movie standards, too--slapsticky chase scenes, celebrity cameos, fart jokes--and it all adds up to Robots being as slick and tasteless a money-making machine can be.

Which is too bad, because there are a few cool, original, and even un-Pixar-like spare parts buried in Robots' scrapheap. The animation's fluid and appropriately chromey, and the retro-futuristic production design boasts more intelligence, personality, and humor than the entire screenplay. Director Chris Wedge also has a sharp eye for physical comedy, and it's in those few sequences when Robots exhibits a weak pulse. But rather than expounding upon those moments, Wedge and Blue Sky are happier to just sop up the overflow of Pixar's gargantuan, all-ages fan base. Robots is content to be utterly middling--far better than Shark Tale and far worse than The Incredibles, Robots is about as much fun to watch as such a dubious status would imply.