Review in a Hurry: One of the original icons of Japanese anime—the robot boy with the atomic heart—gets a Hollywood upgrade in this sporadically entertaining but somewhat muddled all-star CG animated feature.
The Bigger Picture: Astro Boy begins with a shocker that belies the flippant tone which follows: A scientist's young son (Freddie Highmore) is obliterated in a nuclear flash by a heavily armed war-bot. Said scientist, Dr. Tenma, who has the hair and soul patch of a hipster and the voice of Nicolas Cage, decides to put things right by making a robot boy who has all the memories of his son.
But memories aren't all that make the man. When the new kid turns out to have a supercharged intellect—not to mention the ability to fly and turn his arms into giant cannons—Tenma realizes that the robot, who will ultimately name himself Astro, is not a perfect replacement (why he didn't think of this when installing the rocket-launchers into the boy's body is beyond us; some folks just grieve in odd ways, it seems).
However, more is at stake here than father-son relations.
Astro is powered by a glowing blue ball of positive energy; a counterpart to the glowing red ball of negative energy at the heart of the war-bot who killed his organic predecessor. Greedy, militaristic President Stone (Donald Sutherland), who is amusingly running for reelection on a platform of no change, wants both balls (pun probably intended), sensing that the only way to revive his sagging popularity is to start a new war.
In evading the army, Astro winds up leaving the idyllic levitating mountain city on which he and all the wealthy folks live, plummeting to the planetary surface that is covered, Idiocracy-style, in mountains of robotic debris. Here in the wilderness, he will of course find new friends and figure out his destiny.
Imagi studios previously showed great skill with cinematic action sequences in their TMNT adaptation, and the action moments are equally impressive here, lending just the right amount of dizziness to the aerial battles between Astro and his various pursuers.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't quite tonally mesh, with the horror of the son's death and the implications of Stone's genocidal plans given equal weight to such distractions as a wacky trio of radical robot liberationists or a goofy circus director voiced by Nathan Lane; a comparison to the robot carnival in A.I. is instructive on how better to balance the comedic and the dark.
But then, Hollywood's attempts to do the anime style never seem to get it, as previous misfired like Titan A.E. can attest. That Astro Boy gets at least some of the elements right could be seen as some kind of triumph—just not enough of one to induce us to recommend it.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Six words: Nicolas Cage as a mad scientist.
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