The Robots That Launched The Cute-Bot Revolution

Wall-E may be the cutest lil robot ever to hit our screens, but he's also the latest in a long line. It seems like wherever you go in scifi, you have to step over a cute chirpy little bot, who whistles, or tweets out a little catchphrase — including R2D2 from Star Wars, Twiki from Buck Rogers and K-9 from Doctor Who. The cute-robot trend may have taken off in the late 70s, but it really began with 1972's Silent Running, as you can see from the clip above. Click through to find out how Bruce Dern's little robot friends changed science fiction forever.

I totally want a cute robot that comes and picks up after me when I've crashed out drunk on the floor of my floating space-forest. Right after the scene of Bruce Dern collapsing, the robots take him to the surgery and give him really good drugs through a nose/mouth mask, while they patch him up. And they become his robo-poker buddies. So it's totally sad that one of the three robots gets whooshed out to space before Bruce gets around to naming them Huey, Dewey and Louie.


Silent Running was supposed to be sort of a follow-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey and shares the same slow contemplative pace and majestic visuals. (Its director, Douglas Trumbull, was special effects supervisor on 2001.)

But really, it's only remembered for Huey, Dewey and Louie now. There had been funny robots before Silent, like Robbie from Forbidden Planet, and vaguely cool robots, like Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still. But nobody had the technology to make little robots, or even robots that didn't look like a guy in a suit. What was the miracle advancement that allowed Silent Running to solve this problem? Amputees. Four bilateral amputees took turns playing the four "sweet-tempered" robots. With Wall-E, Huey and Dewey's time has finally come.. which is sort of fitting, since Silent Running takes place in the distant year of 2008.


Corpore Metal

@dOk: Yeah, I knew that.

I always thought it was really cool that they did that. Sort of like Kenny Baker playing R2 in Episode 4.

I'm pretty sure that if I was an amputee I'd jump at the chance to play a robot in a science fiction movie—just because it would be one of those weird situations where a disability turns into an unexpected asset. It would be a great story to share with friends. I'd probably get paid a pittance and be listed in the credits as "robot effects." But I think I'd really enjoy it.

Sigh. Nowadays if they did the Drones—the coolest looking robots in science fiction movies in my opinion—they'd just make them radio controlled puppets or CGI. Sigh. It was just a brief window in the 70s before the technology overtook things.