Last night I went to see Robots, Fox's most recent animated adventure, and it was pretty dull. The animation and voice acting were great, but the plot was thin and the script was barely amusing; the only parts I actually laughed at were incidental background widgets thrown in by the artists (such as male and female robot bathrooms labeled with images of plugs and sockets). Aside from all that, the movie was incredibly frustrating because the writers chickened out on a golden opportunity to educate young viewers on the merits of capitalism.

To explain briefly, Robots takes place in a metal world inhabited entirely by robots. Apparently, the robots are all built by a company owned by a big round robot named Big Weld. Big Weld's company is taken over (somehow) by an executive named Ratchet, and Big Weld loses hope and retires into obscurity to play with dominoes. Ratchet is more obsessed with making money than with helping other robots, so he decides that the company is going to stop making spare parts and only sell "upgrades" from now on -- upgrades that are too expensive for the poorer robots to afford, which results in them being melted down once they can't be repaired.

These events set the stage for Rodney, the hero, to solve the problem. He's an inventor himself and gains some quick popularity by fixing some poor robots who can't get spare parts. Rather than charging money for this service -- as is sarcastically suggested by another robot -- he does it for free and then laments that the robots can't be fully repaired without parts. A clever writer would have realized that by charging money, Rodney and his friends could have set up their own company in competition with Ratchet and easily cornered a significant market niche that the villain intentionally neglected.

Children could have learned that only a foolish capitalist would stop making spare parts and thus eliminate a huge revenue stream and a whole host of customers. That's no way to make a profit! The motto of Big Weld was "see a need, fill a need", and the mantra was repeated many times throughout the movie. Indeed, that motto is fundamental to capitalism, and the film would have provided a great foundation for introducing the concepts to children. Obviously Big Weld understood how to make money, or he never would have accumulated the capital necessary to dominate the robot manufacturing market, so why did he allow Rodney and the audience to wallow in naivety?

In the end, Rodney rouses Big Weld from his self-imposed exile and helps him reclaim the company, thus re-establishing the monopoly structure that led to the problems in the first place. Why not instead teach kids to start their own company rather than depend on the moods of others? Why not teach kids the value of competition? Why not teach kids that the best way to make money is to provide something people want?

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