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STUDIO: Summit Entertainment
RATED: PG for some action and peril, and brief mild language
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
- Inside the Recording Booth
- Designing a Hero
- Building Metro City
- Astro Boy Image Gallery: Creating a Global Icon
- Getting the Astro Boy Look
- Two All New Animated Sequences: “Astro vs. The Junkyard Pirates” and “The RRF In: The New Recruit”
In futuristic Metro City, scientist Tenma creates an amazing robot boy with hidden talents unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Astro Boy has super strength, x-ray, vision, incredible speed and the ability to fly. But what he really wants is to know where he belongs. When the world needs saving, he’ll discover he was made for the challenge.
David Bowers (director), Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson
The iconic Japanese hero made blandly palatable for Western tastes.
Full disclosure: I have never seen or read anything to do with Tezuka Osamu’s pop culture defining character Astro Boy before seeing this movie. I’ve been aware of the character and may have caught snippets of the cartoon show in my youth, but have no real knowledge or attachment to the property, so none of my displeasure comes from some kind of fanboy rage.
Astro Boy is the second theatrical outing from the too rapidly defunct Imagi Studios, after their serviceable but flawed reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. But the things that made that movie slightly enjoyable (decent character plotting, tight vocal work and surprisingly well staged action scenes) are completely missing from this sleepwalking homunculus of a kids flick.
The story starts off in an interesting place (we’re given a narrated introduction to the floating world of Metro City by what amounts to a cameo by Charlize Theron, and is easily the funniest part of the whole movie) with robotics genius Dr. Tenma (Nicholas Cage) losing his son Toby (Freddie Highmore) in a weapons testing accident. Distraught, he does what any good movie scientist would and brings his son back as a weaponized android. But, after realizing his creation isn’t like his dead offspring, Tenma disowns Robo-Toby. This leads to the military trying to get it’s hands on Robo-Toby, who escapes to the Earth’s surface world, meets up with a typical group of junkyard orphans and gets tagged with the spacier moniker of Astro. This is when the movie promptly hits the snooze button and discards any of its textbook interesting sci-fi concepts for a more by the numbers “outcast kid” comedy adventure, complete with a faithful robot dog companion.
Easily, the most heinous crime I can charge Astro Boy with is bizarrely wrong voice casting practically across the board. None of the character models seem to fit the voices coming out of their mouths. Sure, it’s a star-studded ensemble, but these animated movies attract big name talent all the time, so it’s not the dream team atmosphere a marketing person would expect you to think it is. No one seems to be doing anything interesting with their voices either, just talking like themselves. The only exception is Matt Lucas as Sparx, a revolutionary robot who is hindered from actually harming humans thanks to Asimov’s pesky Laws of Robotics. While his humor doesn’t strike any chords, he’s at least got energy, something sorely missing from nearly everyone else in the cast. Donald Sutherland is practically narcoleptic as the villainous President Stone, delivering lines like his mouth is overflowing with Ambien.
Astro Boy is also sorely lacking in action beats, something this kind of story needs to keep it afloat. We get a short chase through Metro City and an even shorter robot arena battle hosted by the throwaway surprise baddie Hamegg (Nathan Lane), but the majority of the movie treads over familiar character scenes while doing nothing new or interesting with them. “Oh, there’s this surface girl, Cora (Kristen Bell, who is decent but not interesting in the least) that I like but I’m a-scared to tell her I’m actually a robot!” Yawn. “Boy, this ragtag bunch of surface youngsters sure make me feel like I have a place in this world!” Snore. “Gosh-a-roonie! There’s a giant robot destroying the city! Guess this climax is what I was built for. Hooray for destiny!” Pillow meets head.
For a CGI animated film, Astro Boy doesn’t do its part to stand out among the bigger heads of Pixar and Dreamworks. The design is too smooth and polished at the beginning, and actually seems to change as the movie progresses. This is probably intentional since the movie begins in the Utopian Metro City and eventually ends up on the trash heap that is the Earth’s surface. While it’s an interesting visual cue, it makes the aesthetic seem uneven and makes getting into the visual vibe of the film practically impossible from the outset. It’s too bad, since the final battle is well done and looks good, but it’s too little too late by then.
What’s doubly frustrating is that Astro Boy has the skeleton of a good sci-fi kids movie, but lacks any muscles or skin. There’s the idea of an upper-class society floating above a wasted Earth (Wall-E did it better), the classic dilemma of what makes someone human, and even an attempt to do an Iron Giant at the end with the importance of self-sacrifice and the the true meaning of heroism. But all that gets washed away with what seems to be an attempt to cater to what the mindless movie masses and their wretched spawn want to see on the big screen.
Astro Boy is perfectly acceptable eye fodder for an undiscerning six or seven year old, but it fails to stand up to the wider-reaching appeal CGI kids movies are expected to these days. And besides, if you want to show your kids some science fiction that you can also enjoy, pop in either of the two movies I mentioned above, or be a really cool parent and watch Zathura with them.
The DVD comes with two short Astro Boy features that almost feel like deleted scenes, a glimpse at the comatose voice recording sessions with short interviews with most of the actors, a video with the art director showing you how to draw your very own Astro Boy (coupled with a brief look at the character designing process), a featurette showcasing the designing of all the various sets and setpieces throughout the movie, a slideshow of images from the original manga and cartoon show (coupled with promotional material for the film), and a strangely off-putting publicity stunt video showing kids getting their hair spiked like Astro Boy’s iconic horns. This segment is almost worth it alone just to see some Dad uncomfortably get his hair spiked along with his kid.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars