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Rust Never Sleeps in Blue Sky's Feast for the Eyes

20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios, the development team responsible for 2002's Ice Age, returns with Robots, a dizzying, dazzling spectacle with a cheerful plot lifted straight from the Hollywood assembly line. Director Chris Wedge has created a labyrinthine universe in which power-hungry machines rage against other, less fortunate, machines and his visual style is arresting and ambitious -- so ambitious that some sequences feel like flashy demo reels, superfluous to the story but pleasing to the eye. In the wake of the Dreamworks' inferior Shark Tale, it's further proof that, in the fiercely competitive world of American animation, Pixar is still tops.

Not that these Robots don't make for passable family fare. There are clever one-liners sprinkled throughout the proceedings, even if the obligatory pop-culture references, particularly a brief dance number to Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time," grow tired. And the story -- of a ragtag team of underdogs overcoming the odds and rescuing their nuts-and-bolts society from megalomaniacal tyrants bent on world domination -- is familiar but effective. It's fun while it lasts, but it's slight, leaving little more than a fleeting impression.

The cast of voice actors charged with the task of infusing a pinch of humanity into the mix is impressive. Ewan McGregor is sufficiently plucky as Rodney Copperbottom, a young 'bot with a heart of gold -- or, to be precise, recycled steel -- and dreams of making the world a better place. Those dreams lead him to the Big City, where his idol, the benevolent Bigweld (Mel Brooks), has fallen from grace, losing his trademark altruism and the reins to his company, which happens to produce the parts necessary for the survival of the robot race.

Rodney and Bigweld are both inventors, but Bigweld, a larger-than-life celebrity depicted as a cross between God and Ed Sullivan, has pulled a Howard Hughes and abandoned the spotlight for a life of seclusion in his penthouse hermitage. In his absence, the corporation bearing his name has fallen into the hands of Rachet (Greg Kinnear), a tyrant planning some kind of robot holocaust to rid the land of the poor, the downtrodden and anyone else who can't afford his new line of designer upgrades. It's up to Rodney, Bigweld and a lovable group of misfits known as the Rusties to stop him. (No points for guessing that they succeed, learning valuable lessons in the process.)

Robin Williams, as Rodney's flamboyant sidekick, brings a little too much humanity to his role, and his over-the-top antics lose their charm quickly, but Robots is not really a movie concerned with characters as much as eye-popping effects cloaked in the guise of a well-worn fable. Its futuristic cityscapes, reminiscent of those famously rendered in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, are wondrous and cutting-edge, and its story is durable enough. But its critics can't be faulted for wanting more.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars