Underneath the computer-generated exterior of Astro Boy there’s heart and humor that kids will enjoy and parents will appreciate.
Based on the classic Japanese manga of the 60′s, Summit Entertainment has revived the science fiction series for an origin story and a new adventure. Fair warning, however, diehard fans of the originals may be disappointed in the sugary sweet re-imagining.
In the floating haven of Metro City, scientists have discovered two infinite, renewable sources of positive and negative energy capable of restoring life to an abandoned Earth. It’s not long before the megalomaniac leader (voiced by Donald Sutherland) orders the negative core into a “Peacekeeper” robot that wreaks havoc on the lab and vaporizes Toby, the bright son of Dr. Tenma (a more restrained Nicolas Cage).
Tenma builds a robot in his son’s image and fills it with Toby’s memories, creating a powerful version of the boy with the use of the positive energy core. Soon the plucky robo-boy (Freddie Highmore) is zipping through the towering skyscrapers on his rocket feet. Pursued by the military, Astro Boy escapes to the Earth below where he encounters orphans his age like Cora (Kristen Bell), a cruel mechanic named Hamegg (Nathan Lane), and a trio of silly bots from the Robot Revolutionary Front.
The colorful characters are formed as candy-coated shells of smooth textures and imbued with playful personalities. It’s a visual treat sprinkled with bits and bolts of light-hearted humor, but not exactly a pure example of innovation in storytelling.
The living boy to functional creation is a modern, reverse Pinocchio tale that borrows the ambiguities of reality (see also: Spielberg’s A.I.) and the struggles of a live-giving father. The sidekick machines are the same bumbling, goofy comic relief of most animated movies, especially the misfit scraps of the little-seen Robots. Plus a floating world of lazy humans and servant robots escaping the discarded surface of Earth closely resembles the premise of the superior Wall-E.
The environmental message and references to using science as a weapon are pieces of a political agenda that, coupled with references to Isaac Asimov’s strict set of robot rules, provide a second layer for the older crowd. But the childish gags and familiar material don’t always operate well together.
There isn’t much here for adults without children, but Astro Boy is a harmless jolt of family fun that radiates positive energy for boys and girls.
3 out of 5.