One of Japan’s most celebrated icons gets a fresh American makeover and, on the surface, it was worth the 57-year wait. If you’re like me, Astro Boy’s image seems fairly familiar but you never got into the story of this 23-volume manga classic. I saw the trailer before watching Where the Wild Things Are and it proved to be one of the better parts of that trip for me. Imagi Animation Studios (Hong Kong) enlist director David Bowers (Flushed Away) and screenplay writer Timothy Harris (Trading Places, Space Jam) to retell this story to adults and children, who are individually tough to please, and tougher to entertain as a tandem.
The film is set in futuristic Metro City, a utopian metropolis that floats high above a planet that has been abused, almost entirely abandoned and used as a disposal for obsolete robots and other waste (Wall-E -ish). Brilliant scientist, Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicholas Cage), creates an incredibly powerful robot in the image of his lost son Toby. Toby’s memories are uploaded into the robot and the Dr. tries to carry on life with his new son. Dr. Tenma quickly realizes that the robot can’t fill the void, sending the techno-masterpiece on a search for significance. While in exile, the robot meets new friends, receives the name Astro (Freddie Highmore, Charlie Buckets of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and learns to use his power to protect others. Donald Sutherland voices the part of President Stone, who covets Astro Boy’s power and seeks to capture him.
The action in this movie is fast and frequent making it enjoyable and easy to digest. It features voice work from big US names like, the aforementioned, Cage and Sutherland, as well as, Kristen Bell and Samuel L. Jackson. It even drew Hollywood vets like Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane and, one of my favorites, Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Shaun of the Dead). However, the story of this classic figure goes virtually untold. I don’t know much about the original Astro Boy, but I think it’s safe to assume that a comic book character does not garner national affection in a post World War II Japan without a compelling story. I walked away feeling like I saw something cool but I have no desire to see what happens next. This is a shame because Astro Boy seems like a character with great potential for merchandising and sequels but the writer and director put out bait with no hook. Parents may want to stay awake during this one because kids may have questions about the absence of a mother figure and Toby’s accident. There’s an underlying political statement that may be off-putting for some, but the humor and high-speed action keep those ideals under the surface.
One slightly pesky aspect of this David Bowers’ vision was his constant nods to greater films which only served to remind me that, “this was no that” over and over again. You may find shades of Wall-E, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Pinocchio and Superman the Movie, leaving this movie in dim light. It causes me to appreciate the attention to originality and story that Pixar and Dreamworks seem to understand. One final note; as good as the visual images were, I feel this film could have been more exciting in a 3D format.
For it’s higher than moderate entertainment value, I give Astro Boy 3 out of 5 babbles.