Following on from his emotional teenage drama Soul Surfer, director Sean McNamara returns to a more infantile approach, as the director of successful kids’ TV shows That’s So Raven and Even Stevens now presents Robosapien, a film that is reminiscent of children’s films such as Agent Cody Banks. And yes, I have seen Agent Cody Banks.
When the multi-million dollar robot prototype Robosapien (Jae Head) is separated from his creator (David Eigenberg), he is discovered and reformed by the youngster Henry (Bobby Coleman), a lonely kid who is bullied at school. Living at home with his mother (Penelope Ann Miller) and older sister (Holliston Coleman), the trio decide to take this tremendously intelligent robot into their care, although when the organisation that funded Robosapien are wanting him returned, Henry and his new best friend may just have a fight on their hands to stay together.
As Robosapien begins, it feels as though you’ve walked in halfway through, with a fast-paced opening act that provides the viewer with so little build up or back story, proving to be somewhat hectic and overbearing as there is just so much going on. It does make sense to a degree, after all this is aimed at a very young audience who haven’t quite got the attention span to sit through a slow-burning narrative that builds up pensively. I can recall fast forwarding all of the Richard Attenborough sequences from the opening of Jurassic Park as a child, for example. However McNamara’s unrelenting approach does make it difficult for the viewer to relax, enhanced by the constant backing music, implemented to help prompt us into feeling a certain way, though it seems almost insulting – kids can work out how to feel without the need to be emotionally manipulated.
Once we have got beyond the first 20 minutes and the actual story begins, the film isn’t actually too bad. Robosapien itself is a cool creation, and you do find yourself endeared to him, even if he does feel like a mascot for a safety video you may watch at school, or a cereal brand. Bobby Coleman is also impressive, and the nicest scenes of the films are those between the pair of them – in particular those where Henry seeks Robosapien’s advice in asking a girl out at his school. The bullying sub-plot is somewhat cliched however, and also comes across as being terribly unfair – the kid in his class has the unfair advantage of looking about 21 years old.
This title is full up to the brim of hackneyed conventions of the genre, feeling incredibly old fashioned as a result, as though this has come straight out of the late 80s or early 90s. The whole feel to it, the music and the story, and regrettably for the filmmakers, the special effects too. The shadowing and light reflection on Robosapien works, but whenever he must interact with humans it’s just terribly constructed. There is a brilliantly unsuccessful high five at one point.
Ultimately Robosapien is somewhat difficult to review as this feature is not aimed at an adult audience in the slightest, nor those of us that enjoy calling ourselves “big kids”. The target audience is seven or eight year olds, and it’s difficult to get yourself back in that mindset. Nonetheless, you can still judge this film in regards to other kids movies that have touched or inspired a generation, and sadly such an outcome seems rather unlikely for Robosapien. There may be shades of E.T. To this, but it just hasn’t got that depth or emotional edge that makes kids films so poignantly well-rounded at times.
Thanks to the likes of Pixar, children are being exposed to more intelligent and thought-provoking films nowadays, and I’m not sure if films like Robosapien still quite cut it. Call me old-fashioned but I like a good story, and although this may be aimed at a young audience, a well told story is equally as effective no matter the age, and this is lacking somewhat. There may be an audience for this, but sadly I’m just not it.