'Robots' has imagination, humor, and impressive visuals. It also has a brain.
The no-fuss titles of children's movies in the last decade suggest the films were made at a cannery. All the guesswork is gone. A name like ''Toy Story" guarantees you won't be getting a story about pots and pans. It's a safe bet that ''Shark Tale" won't have a lot to do with, say, giraffes.
This time, 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky animation studios have given us ''Robots," a funny, vividly made technorama that is always splendid to look at. The name may be generic, but the detailed imagination powering it is not.
The story and its outcome hold no surprises: A tall, doll-like robot named Rodney Copperbottom (the ebullient Americanized voice of Ewan McGregor) leaves his mom and dad in Rivet Town to make his dream of becoming an inventor in Robot City come true.
But David Lindsay-Abaire and the veteran screenwriting partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have built in a smart class parable about consumerism, too. Rodney wants to show his ideas to his inventor hero, Bigweld (Mel Brooks), whose corporation, Rodney discovers, has been taken over by Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear), a sleek corporate meanie who has forced Bigweld into a retirement of sorts. Profits at Bigweld's company have flattened, and Ratchet's plan to make money is to do away with the sale of simple, cheap robot parts and instead sell fancy upgrades. Ratchet's new anti-parts campaign even has a slogan: ''Why be you when you can be new!"
Luxury will become a necessity, and those who can't afford it (the ''outmodes") get shipped, in their obsolescence, to a hellish, subterranean, scrap metal chop shop run by Ratchet's grotesque mother, Madame Gasket (Jim Broadbent).
Apparently, robots fall apart all the time. But now, if all they require is a tightened wing nut or new valve, they have to go in for full-body makeovers. So Rodney, with his urgently needed mechanical genius, becomes the equivalent of the small-town doctor who takes on a healthcare giant. The climactic showdown, meanwhile, between the outmodes and Ratchet's deadly mastodon-size machines is probably too much like the final battle sequence from one of those ''Matrix" sequels, but it doesn't last nearly as long.
Directed by Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, who improve on their last outing, 2002's ''Ice Age," ''Robots" is a combination of old-school and ultramodern ideas of how the future will look. For instance, Rodney and his colorful outmode friends, who were designed by the children's writer and illustrator William Joyce, look like vintage-toy tin men. The upgrades are mysteriously shiny and generically attractive, like some fashion models and Sub-Zero refrigerators.
''Robots" is also an opportunity for its stars to cut up. Paul Giamatti has a field day as a jesting toy sentinel at company headquarters. And Robin Williams, who plays Fender, a hapless, aimless robot who befriends Rodney, reminds us that his antic shtick is best in cartoons. The rest of the cast, which includes Halle Berry, Drew Carrey, Jennifer Coolidge, and Amanda Bynes, is fun, too.
The two most impressive and intricate sequences in ''Robots" -- one involving a billion loosed marbles and another a zillion toppled dominoes -- really have nothing to do with anything. The filmmakers are just showing off. But they're also incredibly inspired.
In 2003, ''Ice Age" lost the animated-feature Academy Award to Hayao Miyazaki's ''Spirited Away," and the folks responsible for ''Robots" seem to have taken some visual ideas from the anime auteur. ''Robots" isn't as trippy, scary, handmade-looking, or environmentally aware as some of Miyazaki's pictures. But it shares their dreaminess. Even at its most ingenious, not even Pixar does that.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.