We, Robots! (Part 23): Mr. DeMille, I’m Ready For My Shut-Down

A finale chapter, continuing our survey of robots receiving star treatment in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and international animated features. Of course, with the cross-over industries of CGI animation and “live action” special effects, the distinction has become exceptionally blurred between what is to be classified as in the animated world, and what is “reality”. Do “Iron Man”, Transformers, or Star Wars franchises, count as animated features? There is almost the same reluctance to do so as there was in the 1930’s to consider “King Kong” in its proper setting as a stop-motion animated work. We should not count out the contributions of numerous action-adventure pictures from the field of artificially-created art, even if their own creators try to place themselves above the level of mere animators through flashy special-effects department titles. Let us not forget the many years that Ub Iwerks took on the title “Special Processes” at Disney, though he was indeed an animator at heart. Accordingly, should anyone feel inclined to comment on the more “realistic” automatons of Hollywood blockbusters in an animation context, they are invited to do so. Also, as it is highly likely more animated robots have been overlooked in recent and/or foreign productions, any sharing of data in these regards will be most appreciated.

Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (O Entertainment/Paramount/Nickelodeon, 12/21/01), a CGI feature which eventually spawned a TV series, contributes to the current trail primarily by the inclusion of a robot dog named Goddard (after the founder of rocket science). He doesn’t look too much like a dog – more like a tin box with a roughly dog-shaped head and four robotic legs. But he is an all-purpose assistant to Jimmy – running mathematical calculations like a computer (a feature he shares in common with someone I forgot to mention from early television, “Compy”, a robot duck featured in the Halas and Bachelor series, Dodo the Kid From Outer Space), sprouting helicopter blades from his head for quick ascents or descents, projecting holographic images to his friends, opening his mouth to provide a tape dispenser – and generally a jack-of-all-gadgets similar to Dyno-Mutt in variety, though unable to talk, instead communicating on metallic barks and woofs. He’s great – if only he’d stop excreting small piles of nuts and bolts on the porch. Jimmy also uses various other Jetsons-styled semi-robotic appliances of his own invention, such as a laser beam toothbrush, and a many-armed hair styler, which can provide Mohawks, girlish curls (in error), and Jimmy’s usual tall pompadour. The corny script with an alien abduction of the adult population by an egg-fixated race known as the Yolkians served as an introduction to the series that followed Jimmy’s adventures in the semi-‘50’s style semi-futuristic community of Retroville. One of its most unexpected gags was the inclusion of a version of the rural polka “The Chicken Dance” within the plans to outwit the Yolkians. Its animation was actually low-tech for CGI, but provided sufficient fun to be interesting.

Disney wasn’t faring too well in producing fantasies in the action-adventure vein during this time, scoring box office failures both on the off-subject “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and on Treasure Planet (11/27/02), a sci-fi reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. The film was in fact entertaining and well-animated, if a bit quirky. It was innovative in casting the Jim Hawkins role as an older adolescent, who, lacking a father figure, borders on becoming a juvenile delinquent, before being molded into maturity by a voyage into space, and the mentorship of ship’s cook Silver. Silver retains traditional personality, but is upgraded to a cyborg, his battle-damaged arm replaced with an all-purpose robotic multi-hand that operates much like a Swiss army knife, complete with all manner of cutting tools, a heating torch, and robotic fingers for the rare occasion when a handshake is in order. He also has one laser-beam eye, eliminating the need for a traditional pirate patch. A fully robotic member of the cast is B.E.N. (Bio-Electronic Navigator) (voiced by Martin Short, in his best efforts to mimic the read of Robin Williams as Genie in Aladdin), the parallel to the the original story’s Ben Gunn, a brass-toned robot with a flat head similar in shape to a large hockey puck, and eye units consisting of multiple grids of LED lights. He has been marooned on Treasure Planet by Captain Flint, who used the robot to chart a course to the location selected for the hiding place for his treasure, but ripped out the robot’s central memory circuit after the hiding was done to ensure the secret would never be disclosed. As the secrets of the planet begin to unravel, and the hiding place is ultimately discovered by Jim, Jim comes upon Flint’s skeleton in the treasure room, upon which he discovers B.E.N.’s missing memory circuit. He reinserts it into B.E.N.’s head, restoring the ditzy computer’s memories – and the terrible secret that the planet has been booby-trapped to self-destruct should anyone intrude upon the location of the treasure. A race for an escape portal before the imminent explosion provides the action-packed highlight of the film’s finale, which B.E.N. survives, allowing him to find new employment as the waiter at the rebuilt Admiral Benbow Inn.

Perhaps the only thing responsible for nixing the success of this picture was a level of implausibility unexplained, regarding the cast’s mode of transportation. A creatively-designed harbor asteroid looks from space as if in the shape of a crescent moon, but instead consists largely of docks for space vessels which, for all intents and purposes, retain the design of vintage sailing ships – with a few exceptions. They have engine rooms below, controlling rocket-thrusters in their keels, as well as an artificial gravity generator. Their power is derived from “solar sails” – fabric sails that unfurl on masts in a manner similar to unfolding fans, having the properties of solar energy panels, and feeding such power through circuitry in the central masts down to the engine room. What is not explained at all is how the crew breathes while traveling in space, as they all stand in the open upon the decks or in the rigging, with neither an illustration of nor mention of any self-contained atmospheric bubble accompanying them. Nor, of course, was any thought given to explaining how the crew would not be exposed to radiation and extremes of heat and cold during their voyage – nor to the fact that solar powering would seem impractical to impossible if attempting to said away from one solar system to another, placing the ship out of range of its power source. It may be here that audiences suspended belief in the new version, unwilling to let their imaginations fly along with the cast. Though an unsettling factor to the overall concept, the entertainment value of the film should have been able to surpass it. With a tad more open-mindedness and less of an expectation for Disney to think all details through, the film remains deserving of a second look.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Warner, 11/9/03) was a clever live-action/animation mix, much in the style of “Roger Rabbit”, drawing the Looney Tunes into the world of super-spying and international espionage, which surprisingly under-performed at the box office. (I for one could not understand why, as I exited the theatre with my jaw literally aching, on account of laughing harder than I could remember at many a feature, short of “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”.) In perhaps the most unexpected appearance of a robot in this survey, CGI animation is employed amid the 2D renderings of the rest of the cast, to provide the appearance from a giant crate on a railway platform of a 20-times life-size robot rendering of Chuck Jones’s Frisky Puppy! The devastatingly cute creature plays guard dog against the good guys, blocking their way and knocking aside one of the cast members with its tail. Brendan Frasier still manages to swing over him on a crane hook, and rescue his father from the tracks, while a train being run by Wile E. Coyote passes and explodes in a collision with a cargo of dynamite (Wile E. holding up a sign reading “They don’t pay me enough.”). All Frisky can do is take time out to scratch a flea.

A robot features prominently in Pixar’s The Incredibles (10/24/04), as Mr. Incredible, the father figure of a superhero family who, along with all other superheroes, has been sent into hiding as average citizens due to a flurry of damage lawsuits and government crackdowns on superhero violence, seeks to better his lot by answering a job offer that leads him to believe a branch of the government still needs his special breed of services, at triple his present salary. He is flown to a remote tropical island, to shut down a robot known as Omnidroid – a ball shaped robot with five tentacle arms topped with rotating triple-blades. The device is a “learning robot” with artificial intelligence, designed to learn from its battles with opponents and better its strategies to beat them, which has already learned enough to be out of the control of its creators, so Incredible is instructed to act fast before it learns too much. Its cloaking devices make it difficult to track, and Incredible does not notice it until he is directly underneath it in the dense jungle. The robot throws everything it has at him, flipping him with its tentacle arms, slashing at him with its rotating blades, rolling at him like the boulder from Indiana Jones, and pushing him toward volcanic lava – all the while measuring and readjusting to Incredible’s moves. Incredible survives only by fortuitously landing in a small blind spot directly below the robot’s lower rotating eye-scanner, allowing him a chance to rip the rotating device out, and crawl inside the robot’s shell. The robot flails at itself with its claws, poking holes in its own metal in attempt to get at Incredible, while the hero takes out its insides for a shutdown. He is secretly observed by an undisclosed “employer” through monitors.

As the story progresses, we and Mr. Incredible ultimately discover that the “employer” is a disgruntled fanboy who was denied the opportunity to become “Incrediboy” years ago. A high-tech genius, he depends on technology rather than super powers to achieve his ends, and now goes by the name of Syndrome. He has made billions developing computer weaponry for the highest bidder, and now is bent on the revengeful goal of destruction of all superheroes. It is discovered that the Omnidroid had been test-battled against scores of other superheroes also looking for gainful employment – all of whom have been destroyed by its learning ability and upgrades. In a second battle between Incredible and the upgraded robot, Syndrome is led to believe that Mr. Incredible has also been polished off, rendering the real superheroes largely gone. Syndrome attempts to display himself as a new super, battling his own robot publicly, although armed with a wrist remote control with which he believes he can jettison the robot’s arms at will to make it look like he has won in battle. He forgets his own “learning” programming of the robot, and the robot’s sensors detect the remote control, and blast it from his wrist. Syndrome winds up unconscious on a building roof, while the robot runs amok. This time, the entire Incredible family gets into the act, adding the flexibility of his wife, Elasti-Girl, the super-speed of their son Dash, and the invisibility and force-field powers of their daughter Violet. Even one of the few other surviving supers, Frozone (possessing ice powers) joins the fray to run interference with ice walls and attempts to freeze the robot’s joints. For a time, the object of battle shifts to Syndrome’s fallen wrist-remote, which everyone tries to hold onto while the robot blasts away at whoever is holding it. Dash takes a football-style pass from Mr. Incredible who tells him to “go long”, running over the surface of a river like a skipping stone to make the catch on the opposite bank. But the robot is still learning, and figures out how to be unresponsive to the remote’s buttons. All that seems to respond is one of the robot’s fallen claws. Mr. Incredible recalls how the previous prototype had been strong enough to punch holes in itself, and gets an idea. Holding the fallen claw in the direction of the oncoming robot, he waits for his wife to time a press of the remote button, which fires a rocket-propulsion of the claw, straight at the robot’s central ball. The claw pierces clear through, shattering the robot’s inner circuitry, and finally leading to its downfall. The supers are public heroes once again.

Robots (Blue Sky, 3/11/05) – What more could you ask? An all-robot cast, without a single sign of organic life. Who designed them? Who first created them, before they became self-sustaining? Who cares? That’d be like asking who crafted the musical instruments that populated Disney’s “Music Land.” It’s a pure world of fantasy, and it just exists because it – exists. It has all the trappings of an average advanced civilization – from domestic suburbia to big city sprawl. It has its good guys, and its power-hungry villains out to subjugate civilization. And it has its inevitable comic relief, in the form of Robin Williams. In its day, it was a surpriser, and an interesting departure from the studio’s “Ice Age” franchise. It marked a curious “breakthrough” in CGI graphics, being the first such film I ever noticed to incorporate into its movement frames generated with deliberate photographic-like blur between points of motion, to make faster movements look more natural and less mathematically smoothed-out – an approach roughly approximating Chuck Jones’ “smear frame” effect. Most of all, it was an entertainer, even if rather on the frenetic side.

A robot dishwasher from the suburbs is about to become a father, but misses the delivery – because he is late getting home, and doesn’t catch up with the delivery truck that dropped off the baby’s parts in a crate as a “do-it-yourself” kit. His robot wife tels him that that’s all right, as “Making the baby” is the most fun. No, no hanky-panky. Instead, the proud parents get to work with wrench and screwdriver, and after exerting many hours produce an adorable metal toddler. Papa comments that he has eyes from his mother’s side of the family, and other features from his own side – adding that it’s a good thing they saved such spare parts for use in his construction. A stray part is painfully installed as a final act of construction – determining the baby’s gender as a boy! The child grows, with new parts installed on his birthday for each year of development. However, the parts are not shiny and new, but hand-me-down used components from various cousins – including one year of adolescence where the bot has to settle for a torso donated by a female cousin. The family, like most in this society, does not maintain a standard of living sufficient to support flashy trend-setting retooling, but instead is dependent upon supplies of basic replacement parts from their original models to remain operable.

The boy (Rodney Copperbottom, who has a toaster-shaped head bearing colorings and a central fin much resembling the metal work of a vintage 1950‘s Chevy) graduates from a robot university, and becomes a self-styled inventor, inspired by the television programs of their world’s most popular robot, Bigweld (a large robot shaped like a huge ball-bearing with a head attached, voiced by Mel Brooks), who is the inventor of most of their society’s major innovations and gadgets, as well as the exclusive supplier of component parts through his enterprise known as Bigweld Industries, located in Robot City. He encourages all new inventors to bring their ideas to fill robots’ needs, and lives by the motto that “You can shine no matter what you’re made of.” Rodney labors and develops a miniature device he calls the “Wonderbot” – shaped much like a coffee pot but equipped with long flexible arms similar to a plumber’s snake, and a helicopter propeller with sprouts from its head, allowing it to fly around and perform odd jobs. Rodney is determined to take it to the big city and apply for a position with Bigweld. However, he is unaware that there has been a shake-up at Bigweld Industries. An upheaval at the board of directors has convinced Bigweld that his ideas are old and antiquated – and don’t bring in money. A new CEO, Phineas T. Ratchet, has been appointed, while Bigweld has dejectedly been convinced to disappear from company activities and become a mere unseen figurehead, for the alleged good of the company. He lives in recluse in his private mansion, only busying himself in his pastime of building endless chain-reaction domino rallies (with which he used to illustrate on TV his concept of “one idea leading to another”). Ratchet, meanwhile, has his own ideas on how to turn a profit. Out with all those customers who depend upon inexpensive spare parts. Instead, discontinue spare parts altogether, and offer only high-cost, state of the art upgrades. His new company motto: “Why be you, when you can be new?” Those who buy will support the business by paying through the nose. Those that don’t will rust away, and become obsolete fodder for the chop shop (a subterranean mass-industry below Robot City, where old robots are melted down to make new products – operated by none other than Ratchet’s mother, a fat, evil robot resembling a giant spider). To ensure that her son will succeed in his new venture without interference, Mom continually encourages Ratchet to go one step further than putting Bigweld into exile – do away with him altogether.

Rodney shows up at the gates of Bigweld Industries, via a harrowing cross-town commute through the mega-metropolis with transportation devices that seem a cross between the chutes of “Marble Madness” and track devices based of Wham-o’s ole “Wheel-O” magnetic toy. He is rebuffed and refused entrance at the gate. Flying his way into the board room with Wonderbot, he is forcibly ejected by means of an electromagnetic crane, temporarily giving him an “attractive” personality, causing all manner of junk and devices to purse him down the street. Stuck inside a trash can, he is found by a thin red robot (Fender Pinwheeler (Robin Williams)) who had previously attempted to panhandle him, and who now steals one of his feet. Rodney pursues, retrieving his foot, and knocking Fender’s head off. Fender is defended by an entourage of other robots who refer to themselves as “scroungers”, staying operational and making a living by foraging for abandoned spare parts. They all wind up together with Rodney in hiding, as a large vehicle with gobbling jaws and vacuum nozzles combs the streets in search of obsolete robots for the chop shop.. Rodney makes amends to Fender (who can’t find a replacement joint to reattach his head, due to Bigweld’s discontinuance of spare parts), by using random washers and screws to fashion a new joint himself. Word gets out of Rodney’s ability to create substitute replacement parts, and soon a mile-long line of robots waits outside the scroungers’ door for Rodney to administer his magical life-preserving skills. The word also gets back to Bigweld industries, where Ratchet sees the potential threat to his upgrade plot if the public finds a way to have themselves repaired with no new money coming in to the company. Ratchet swears to find and eliminate the mystery healer.

But scrap components are not infinite, and Rodney soon realizes that raw material for repairs is running low, and that it is time for a showdown with the elusive Bigweld to set things right. Rodney and a few of the scroungers manage to locate Bigweld’s seemingly-deserted mansion, and pay him a call. They discover him deep inside, riding atop a tidal wave of dominos – but hear his tale of defeat, and lack of interest in standing up for the rights of the common bots, as he is convinced his ideas and old way of life no longer fit the times. Rodney rallies the scroungers by deciding to fight upgrades with upgrades – using their last remaining supplies of spare components to fashion new weapons and abilities for each of their members. Just before their departure for battle, Bigweld appears, having a change of heart based on Rodney’s spunk and attitude, and offering to help them gain entrance to the plant by making an unexpected personal appearance there himself.

The guards and security at Bigweld Industries are shocked at the reappearance of the company founder, and, as predicted, part the gates open for him, leaving Bigweld access to the board room. There, he confronts Ratchet face to face, ordering him to step down. Ratchet responds by conking Bigweld on the dome, knocking some of his circuits loose, resulting in a state of amnesia and semi-dementia. Rodney enters, and grabs Bigweld to rescue him, rolling him out a window into the hectic traffic of the city’s chaotic commuter system. Rodney works with his wrench feverishly within Bigweld’s head unit in effort to restore his memory, while the scroungers attempt to reel him in by means of a vehicle equipped with a smaller electromagnetic crane. Their pull, however, is matched by a second electromagnetic crane from the opposite side, piloted by Ratchet. A comic tug of war develops, with the scroungers as a “living” chain between the two rolling cranes, while Rodney succeeds in getting Bigweld’s brain circuits reactivated. The chase ultimately delivers everyone to the doors of the chop shop, in which Bigweld is captured by Ratchet, and placed in a basket suspended from an overhead pulley belt, headed for the melting furnace of the chop shop. Some elaborate aerial acrobatics by Rodney liberate Bigweld, while Fender comically fends off several attackers with new parts and garb that make him look like the warrior Brunhilde from a Wagner opera. Ratchet unleashes a line of king-size scooper vehicles which he intends to release on the city to rid the streets of all the non-upgraded robots, but Rodney and Bigweld adopt Bigweld’s domino principle to topple one scooper into another into another, further resulting in Ratchet’s evil Mom being launched into the melting machine herself. Ultimately, all ends happily, with Bigweld back in charge and restoring a full line of inexpensive replacement parts, and Rodney appointed his new vice-president and successor in line to control of Bigweld Industries when the founder’s proper time for retirement finally arrives. A musical jubilee, similar to endings of Shrek and Madagascar pictures, closes the film.

Astro Boy (Imagi Animation, 10/8/09) – The CGI adaptation of the early anime series previously reviewed in these articles had both its similarities and its variances from the origin story discussed from, the TV series. For one thing, the original “boy” (Toby) is not killed in a freak accident in a self-driving automobile, but instead winds up inside the laboratory during the testing of a military defense robot known as the Peacekeeper – a rather traditionally-designed black metal robot, somewhat akin in appearance to the Iron Giant, with, among his various powers of armament and brute strength, the power to absorb various items into its system through a central chest cavity. Dr. Elefun has obtained from space the last falling remnants of a now-extinct star, from which has been harnessed a compressed energy orb known as the “blue core”, producing positive and useful energy. Unfortunately, the distilling process has also produced as a byproduct a “red core”, which is highly unstable and the nature of which is not fully understood, nor as yet capable of being fully disposed of. The two cores further possess the property of being capable of explosively canceling each other out if brought together. Dr Tenma, the father of robotics in this future world (and Toby’s father), at the behest of President Stone (the elected leader of the floating city world where they all reside), to harness Dr. Elefun’s discovery for the new military robot, against his will that it be used only for peaceable purposes. Stone, discovering the existence of the alternate red core, insists upon trying it out in the robot, thinking it will give more “bang for the buck” in battle, as well as impress the voters in his upcoming campaign for re-election. Over Elefun’s protests, the red core is inserted in the Peacekeeper. The robot immediately goes out of control, turning its aggressive powers upon its creators. Stone presses a button that lowers a shield between the robot and themselves, unaware that Toby has entered the lab unnoticed to witness the demonstration, and is hiding in the same half of the lab as the robot. As he pounds on the transparent shield, begging his father to let him out, the helpless inventor is unable to raise the shield in counter of the President’s command, and stands on the opposite side looking eye-to-eye at his desperate son while the robot’s sensors analyze the shield, and choose to attack it by force. A blast from its weaponry takes place behind the transparent barrier, but has no effect on the shield – however, Toby is nowhere to be found, and is apparently disintegrated, with all that remains of him being a fallen baseball hat. The robot uses its alternative power of absorption to break through the shield, and is impervious to all weaponry. Only Dr. Elefun can stop it, by use of a robotic arm charged with the energy of the blue core, which he thrusts into the robot’s absorption chamber. The force of the two energy sources meeting blasts the robot backwards, and neutralizes him long enough to allow the red core to be retrieved. Tenma stands on the sidelines, clutching the baseball cap, bitterly weeping at the loss of his beloved son.

The storyline follows closely from the original the development and education of Astro Boy, as an attempted “perfect” robotic replacement by Tenma of his lost son. It takes a variance, however, from the original story line, by Tenma becoming disappointed in the robot not because of its inability to grow over time, but simply from facing the reality that Astro, despite having Toby’s memories miraculously reconstructed from DBA strands of hair left in his baseball cap, seems different enough from Toby that Tenma constantly realizes every time he looks at Astro that the real Toby isn’t there anymore. As in the original, Tenma gives up on the idea of Astro as a mistake, and disavows his love for the robot boy, leaving the child-bot (who, in an accidental fall from a building, has discovered his reflexive flying powers through rocket boots) to wonder what he has done to deserve such rejection.

Seeking any place where he will be accepted, Astro falls to another world below the floating city, where a small society of “surface dwellers”, generally consisting of the orphans and forgotten, exist upon the piles of trash and debris disposed of by the floating world – including a substantial junkyard of acres and acres of trashed robots considered obsolete. A parallel to the pilot episode of the original series occurs here, as the fallen robots attempt to flock to the fully-charged Astro Boy (who carries within his chest Dr. Elefun’s blue core) as a source of power. Astro is rescued from their zombie-style approach by a group of surface-dweller children rummaging through the debris, and mistaken for another human from the world above (although a robotic dog, known as “Trashcan”, instantly detects his artificial nature, and repeatedly attempts to tip of the humans, without success). Astro eventually shares his blue core power with a giant construction robot which has lain immobile in a makeshift playground for decades, bringing the behemoth back to life. The blue core energy, however, is detected by Hamegg, an adult surface dweller who was dismissed in disgrace from Dr. Elefun’s service and knows of the mysterious power source, revealing that Astro is a robot. In another parallel to the original TV pilot, Hamegg captures Astro, and places him in the setting of an arena show he has developed as a profitable enterprise for the entertainment of the surface dwellers, in which robot is pitted against robot in gladiator-style battle to the death. Astro refuses to fight, but his built-in self-defense mechanisms lead him to ward off the attacks of challenger after challenger. Hamegg breaks out the final opponent – the same behemoth Astro reactivated. Astro uses all his will power to force himself to stand motionless, refusing to allow himself to hurt the robot he saved. The large bot looks like he is about to deliver a crushing blow with his huge fist, but instead pats Astro on the head affectionately, as a sign of his gratitude for Astro’s good deed. Hamegg is furious at the bots for ruining the show. However, developments from the upper world intervene to prevent his shutting down of the two bots. The blue core energy has also been detected by President Stone, who has learned of Tenma’s use of the core to power his boy-robot, and is determined to get the core back to charge-up his refurbished Peacekeeper before the election. Troops are dispatched to the surface, who place Astro Boy in force-field handcuffs, transporting him back to the floating city.

Dr. Tenma has promised President Stone to remove Astro’s blue core upon his capture. However, once the deactivation is accomplished, Tenma, unlike his counterpart in the original TV pilot, experiences remorse at Astro’s shutting-down, and defies Stone by lowering the repaired defensive shield between himself and Stone, and reinserting the core back into Astro. He advises the boy to fly, and Astro makes a quick exit through the ceiling. Having nothing else to use to achieve a recapture of the lad, Stone risks again inserting the red core into the Peacekeeper, ordering it to pursue and capture Astro. An unexpected development occurs, as the still-unpredictable Peacekeeper activates its absorption chamber, and swallows up Stone, melding the consciousness of the robot with that of Stone himself, transforming the pursuit into a battle on a “personal” level. A massive and destructive battle follows, in which Astro not only learns much more about his built-in defensive powers (“I’ve got machine-guns in my butt?”), but receives assistance from his surface-dweller friends, who have commandeered Hamegg’s flying space van to reach the city above. Tenma catches up with Astro during a brief pause in the battle, asking forgiveness for his previous desertion of the bot, and revealing his own change of heart, referring to Astro as not Toby, “but still my son”. He warns Astro of the Peacekeeper’s red core energy source, and advises him to stay away from the robot to keep the two explosive cores from meeting. Astro sees things a different way, and believes that his own powering by means of the blue core spells his destiny, as to what he was meant to do. Fearlessly, he launches himself at the Peacekeeper, heading straight for the robot’s absorption chamber. Stone, sensing the worst, voices from within the robot “No. Go away!”, but too late, as Astro enters the chamber. Stone flails the Peacekeeper’s arms wildly at itself, attempting to tear away at its own torso armor in attempt to extricate Astro from within, but the powers of the two cores merging blast away both arms, then rip apart the robot as streams of blue and red energy flash like beacons across the sky. The Peacekeeper is destroyed, but amazingly, Stone and Astro Boy are ejected from the remains, for the most part physically unharmed. Stone is taken away to jail, but a different fate awaits Astro – as he lies motionless on the ground, the result of his blue core being dissolved and burned out during the explosion. Who should arrive from the surface world but the behemoth robot Astro saved – which is still coursing with power from the blue energy Astro shared. At Tenma’s and Elefun’s request, he returns the favor, depositing a heathy dose of the blue energy back into Astro’s heart. The boy is revived, for a tearful but happy reunion and embrace with Tenma. A short time later, with relationship re-established between father and son, and Astro finding new homes for his friends from the surface, an octopus-like space alien terrorizes the floating city. Astro prepares to fly into battle to defend their world. Tenma asks, “Are you sure you’re ready for this, son?” Astro replies, “I was born ready.”

The feature was a satisfying entertainment, but failed to impress international audiences due to its departure from traditional Manga style in favor of a Pixar-like Western approach. I feel it is a neglected work, and well-deserving of a fresh appraisal in its own right.

Wall-E (Pixar, 6/27/08) was reputedly the last of the original story concepts pitched at the inception of Pixar studios to hit the big screen. This seems fitting, as, in this writer’s humble opinion, it was the least of the original batch of pictures, and the first to disappoint (although, indeed, Pixar has turned out worse in some of its most recent efforts). Its primary character, a trash-compacting robot left on planet Earth when the population evacuates in space stations due to the over-pollution of the planet, seems an attempt to create a sort of robotic version of E.T. However, the character of EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a “female” robot sent to scan Earth for signs of sustainable life, is virtually devoid of personality, rendering our interest in Wall-E’s budding romance with the robot, and in the perils they face in outer space, fleeting and short-lived. I found myself soon bored with the whole affair, and, despite its state-of-the-art animation, had little to remember of it. The eco-friendly plot also seemed like a bit of an agenda, with an implausible ending that the overweight, entirely lethargic humans, dependent in every step of life on robots to manage their lives around the space station, are suddenly able to re-cultivate Earth and turn it into a paradise. (I rarely dig such “message” movies, but this is not a hard and fast rule, as I did enjoy Blue Shy’s interpretation of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax”, though many others didn’t.) The complex twists and turns of the script, as our romantic pair battle against robots in command of the mother ship bent on a directive of never allowing the ship to return to the Earth, were more than I choose to write about or revisit, though I admit to having some fondness for a dramatic moment where Wall-E and Eve are almost jettisoned into space in a trash chute, and a dancing spacewalk as Wall-E uses jet propulsion to maneuver himself around.

Big Hero 6 (Disney, 11/7/14), on the other hand, featured a robot with true heart. A surprising pick as an Oscar winner, the story centers on a young technological genius-prodigy named Hiro, who begins the picture content with using his inventing gifts to construct harmless-looking toy robots which fight like demons when riled to win in the bot-fight arena, cleaning up on illegal betting. His older brother, also a gifted techno-genius, attempts to steer him toward better things, with a visit to his own university “geek squad” program, where everyone freely engages in miraculous invention and scientific development. Hiro wants in, but is told he’ll have to come up with something impressive to get notice from the program’s mentor, Professor Callaghan. This he does with a miniature flexible device he calls “microbot”. Alone, it is next to nothing – but it has the ability to link with countless others of its kind, in patterns of limitless complexity only restricted by the imagination of its controller. Through a brain-wave helmet, Hiro is able to construct the bots into towering heights, transport himself along the top of them like moving waves, and dazzle the crowd at a science fair. A wealthy industrialist offers him employment on the spot, but the professor cautions him that the industrialist has made his fortune by cutting corners and tactics of questionable scientific ethics, and offers Hiro instead the chance to join the advanced program. Hiro opts for the professor’s offer. However, just as he and his brother begin celebrating outside, a massive fire erupts in the auditorium. The professor is still inside, and Hiro’s brother bravely rushes back into the building in an attempt to find him. Then, a gigantic explosion blasts away the front wall of the building, leaving Hiro dazed on the ground outside, while the professor and his brother perish within.

At home, one legacy of Hiro’s brother remains, along with a single one of Hiro’s microbots which had been in his pocket at the time of the explosion. The invention of his brother was also robotic – a health-care robot developed for personal emergency care and first aid, who inflates out of a small first-aid kit box at the sound of any painful moan or ouch. Named Baymax, the robot looks like a sort of marshmallow balloon, with a face consisting only of two eye-dots and a line. It is somewhat clumsy, taking a great deal of time to get its bearings to waddle around furniture as it makes its appearance, but features many devices such as body-scanning technology, a projection-chest displaying images (including recurrent requests to grade pain experienced on a scale of 1 through 10), and a soft, gentle voice attempting to replicate a doctor’s bedside manner. A strange event takes place when the one surviving microbot begins to wiggle around on a plate, as if seeking others to join up with, although the other microbots were believed destroyed in the fire. Baymax takes literally that his patient would feel better if he knew where the microbot wanted to be going, and ventures outside into the street, holding the plate with the microbot to guide him like a compass to the intended destination. Hiro was not expecting this, and chases the two bots through the streets, to an old warehouse, where they discover a mysterious hooded figure in a kabuki mask. After a high-tech rebooting of Baymax, suiting him up in a suit of metallic armor and adding programming on karate moves, plus rocket boosters in his feet and rocket-fists which can jettison for independent fire, Hiro prepares for a showdown with the mystery man. Baymax can’t figure out how learning karate and battle moves will assist in his health care goals – but he does achieve one goal in settling the agitated state of his patient Hiro – by contacting all of his brother’s friends from the geek program as a support group for him. Together, they band to delve into the masked man’s hideout, to discover that he indeed has replicated the microbots, and is commanding them through programming in his mask. An elaborate battle and chase ensue, which sends Hiro and the cast into a plunge in their van to the bottom of the bay – but Baymax rescues them by using his ballooning power to become a floating inflatable, delivering the group to shore. For the next encounter, Hiro beefs up himself and his associates with more high-tech power gear, and installs long-range scanners on Baymax to scan for a match to data he scanned of the villain during the last fight. The odds become more evenly matched, and the good guys/girls are able to slash away at the microbots long enough to unmask their commander. Instead of the number one suspect (the industrialist), the hooded figure is none other than – Professor Callaghan. The Professor had faked his own death in order to steal the microbots, in a plot for revenge against the industrialist. Why? As the villain escapes in confusion as to whether Baymax can be driven beyond his programming to terminate their adversary, the group discover a computer database, with recording of a past experiment of the industrialist in transporter portals through a time and space vortex. Callaghan’s daughter had been the first human volunteer to go through the portal – and disappeared in a malfunction. Callaghan blames the industrialist for subjecting her to the risks of an unstable machine – and has ,ade off with the assistance of the microbots with the one remaining portal device from the industrialist’s shut-down experimental facility, with intent to swallow up all that the industrialist owns, and the industrialist too.

In the climactic final battle, as the portal appears to be devouring everything, Baymax hesitates in attempting to shut it down – detecting signs of human life within. His sensors have picked up Callaghan’s daughter, in a hibernation sleep. Hiro bravely accompanies Baymax into the portal, guiding his flight to avoid debris sucked in during the battle. Callaghan’s daughter’s pod is located, but while attempting to exit the vortex, Baymax is struck by a large chunk of the debris, which breaks away most of his flying armor, and deactivates his rocket boots. Baymax knows of one way to get Hiro and the girl to safety, but at a cost. He inserts his one remaining rocket-powered armor fist into the propulsion jet of the pod, then asks permission to fire. Hiro won’t let go, knowing this will mean losing Baymax forever in the vortex. Baymax assures him that he will always be with Hiro. Believing he is talking in terms of remaining in his heart, Hiro finally approves Baymax’s plan. The rocket fist propels them to safety, while Baymax remains behind, adrift in the void. In the final scenes, Hiro brings home the rocket fist that saved them, as a remembrance of Baymax – only to find a surprise within the clenched fist. Baymax had inserted within it the programming chip created by Hiro’s brother, holding all of Baymax’s data and memories. With a little re-engineering by Hiro, a new Baymax is reborn from the database, and the “Hero” squad is reformed, to battle crime and evil another day.

With this closing chapter, my primary directive in reaching the end of this previously detoured-from trail is fulfilled, and my database exhausted. A new trail begins next week. Until then, my server is down, and I bid you a fond adi– — — —



— — — — I am not a robot. I am not a robot. I am not a r– — — —