Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, February 09, 2007


I caught about half of Robots, a 2005 animation that appeared and disappeared without so much as a flicker on my popular culture radar. Nowadays an animated film has to emerge with shock-and-awe marketing blitzes, a la Happy Feet, for anyone to take it seriously. If it's not on the side of a McDonald's Happy Meal, it's nothing. I seem to recall that critics gave it a tepid review as well, with criticisms similar to Cars: it's hard for human beings to strongly identify with non-living things, no matter how cute or engaging. So I had diminished expectations . . . but I also allowed for the possibility of another The Iron Giant, a truly remarkable film that was anything but mechanical, and similarly swallowed up in the media noise.

I enjoyed it. There's a lot of mecha-techie eye candy to keep boys of all ages engaged - hasn't every boy imagined how cool it would be to pop tools out your forearms? Any coldness that you might expect from a robot movie is overcome by the richness and texture of the scenes, like Tim Burton always ladled onto features like Corpse Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas. There are some uneven lapses in the story-telling . . . an extended riff on fart noises seems like an awful waste, especially when you've got Robin Williams on tap to do the comedy relief. And Robin Williams does his Robin Williams shtick with the character of Fender. It's still a fun shtick, but when a fast-talking robot feels identical to the character of a fast-talking genie or a fast-talking penguin, you start to wonder whether the shtick is running out of steam.

The story tries to take the shape of a moral tale -- a greedy corporate climber stops supporting older models of robots in order to drive his upgrade business, but the plucky robots believe in themselves and refuse to be cast in identical titanium shells. It's the usual message -- a good message -- for a kids' movie to send: believe in yourself, don't be taken in by the glitter and hype of the materialistic world. The only problem is that it really doesn't quite map to our moral sensibilities; try as I might, I couldn't find myself getting morally indignant about old technology not being support. So I suppose the movie did fail to make me completely identify with the characters.

The ending was a little surprising -- normally kid movies of this stripe don't conclude with epic battles, since that's a little violent to pass muster with a G rating. But his one did, with an orgy of visual references to action movies, including Braveheart, Matrix Reloaded, and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and probably others I didn't even get. I felt cheap laughing at it -- has any animated movie not given a nod to The Matrix? -- but man, it was still funny. The only thing that tempered my reaction was the realization that the references were targeting the kids and not the adults, which made me a little sad . . . preadolescents really shouldn't be watching such stuff. But that was quickly dispelled by the feel-good jam-dance at the end, another growing staple of the animated film genre. Robots imitating people imitating dancing robots -- a la Devo -- now that was truly inspired.



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