ASTRO BOY Review (Mania.com)
By:Rob M. Worley
Review Date: Friday, October 23, 2009
Over 50 years ago Japanese cartoonist Osamu Tezuka gave birth to a phenomenon when he first published the manga adventures of Tetsuwan Atomuin 1951. Some ten years later the book was adapted as an anime which was eventually seen by audiences in the U.S. and other English-speaking markets as Astro Boy.
Now the Hong Kong/American studio Imagi re-introduces the character as the star of the new animated feature Astro Boy.
The film opens on Metro City a far-future milieu that floats in the sky, high above the polluted Earth. Metro City is served by a legion of robots who do man's bidding until they break down, at which point they're discarded like garbage and dumped on the planet below.
Toby (Freddie Highmore) is a super-smart school boy whose father, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) is the head of Ministry of Science. Toby crashes the military demo of the new "Peace Keeper" robot and is accidentally killed right before Tenma's eyes. Stricken with grief, Tenma builds a robotic replica of his son and invests it with Toby's memories and every bit of defensive capability known to his military masters. No harm will ever befall him.
Unfortunately, Astro Boy is not a perfect replica and, just as he discovers he's not a real boy, Dr. Tenma comes to regret his actions and wants to dismantle him. Astro flees and, like Pinnochio (who's story was in inspiration for Tezuka's original), he goes on his quest to discover what a real boy is made of.
The ensuing journey is the kind of animated fare that kids will likely love even as their parents impatiently check their watches.
The animation and visual designs are terrific. Throughout the adventure Astro is a very appealing character. If you love cool robots that come in all shapes, sizes and configurations, you'll find plenty to enjoy here.
There's a great sense of fun as Astro discovers his ability to fly (jet boots!) and soars though the city, then high above the clouds and then tunnels through a mountain at super speed before erupting through the volcano top. Later Astro finds himself in the clutches of a Stromboli-esque figure called Ham Eggs and eventually has to square off against a myriad of awesome robot fighters.
The final showdown between Astro and his nemesis provides some particularly great eye-candy.
There's a fair amount of humor to keep the kids laughing and even provide a giggle or two for adults.
Where the movie is lacking is in the emotional components that make most recent animated blockbusters really work. Particularly troubling is Toby's death scene. Obviously there's a need to avoid rendering the violence in a graphic manner, but Dr. Tenma's reaction to it is so understated as to be undetectable. It calls to mind (and suffers by comparison to) the early scenes of Finding Nemo, where Marlon is helpless to stop the attack on his family and is left cradling the last egg that protects his unborn son.
You definitely will not find a lump in your throat watching Tenma's reaction.
There are attempts to help older viewers have fun. Film buffs will find references to things like Lang's Metropolis, Browning's Freaks and even Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
Perhaps most targeted to the adults is the movie's extremely clumsy political commentary. See, the good energy that fuels Astro Boy is Blue. It's positive and leads to positive change. Bad or negative energy is Red. It is aggressive and warlike.
The President Stone character (Donald Sutherland) favors red. He even builds up a bogus war scenario in hopes that the populous of Metro City will see him as strong on defense and re-elect him president. He exists in a red state for sure.
Blue good. Red bad. My son is dead, I guess I'll build a robot.
Eager to run the bases of its plot, Astro Boy serves everything up in too simplistic a manner. It lacks the sophistication of the better animated movies of the recent past. It moves too quickly from the interesting themes contained within its premise and robs itself of the emotional hooks that would elevate it to the level of a great story.
At the end of the day, Astro Boy is still a serviceable kids adventure movie. The action and visuals will have the kids soaring with the boy robot, but the lack of substance will leave the parents as disappointed as Dr. Tenma.
Mania Grade: C+
Movie: Astro Boy
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Bill Nighy and Donald Sutherland
Written By: Timothy Harris
Directed By: David Bowers
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Series: Astro Boy