By Dirk Sonniksen | October 22, 2009
Director: David Bowers
Writer(s): Osamu Tezuka (comic series) Timothy Harris (screenplay)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Freddie Highmore, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane
Based on the Japanese franchise that dates back to 1952, Astro Boy is the story of Toby (Freddie Highmore), an exceptionally smart little guy who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Toby’s willful nature proves problematic in that he must involuntarily trade his human form for an exterior complete with rocket boosters and other accoutrements befitting a robot. Banished by his father (Nicholas Cage), Toby embarks on a journey beyond the confines of Metro City, a levitating utopian society gone awry. He hopes to find his place among the inhabitants of a long since discarded Earth, now used as a trash heap for derelict electronics.
Astro Boy is Star Wars, Iron Giant, Robots, Pinocchio, and a multitude of other movies rolled into one. That said, Director David Bowers manages to pull together something a bit different from the aforementioned films. While there is an abundance of quirky one-liners, robot carnage, and buildings being blasted to bits, what makes Astro Boy shine is the film’s ability to show Metro City and a discarded Earth as thoroughly detached, not only from each other, but from the rest of whatever else exists beyond. This isolation creates a menacing vibe that successfully contrasts with a story line that is very typical for this kind of cinema fare. In addition, there are plenty of familiar political underpinnings, something the kiddos won’t appreciate, but any adult with cognitive thought should immediately pick up on.
Astro Boy is certainly not without its faults. While the film is visually pleasing with plenty of comedic fun, the dialogue does tend to drag in spots, particularly with the three militant robots known as the RRF (Robot Revolutionary Front). They’re fun for a while, but then you just want them to get crushed to death or somehow be written out of the story. As for casting, it worked for the most part, with Freddie Highmore as Toby and Kristen Bell as Cora taking top honors. The voice of Nicholas Cage as Toby’s father, however, was a bit annoying.
Astro Boy may lack the refinement and slick story line of a Pixar flick, but Imagi Animation Studios put out a product that will most likely grow on those unfamiliar with the Astro Boy lineage. It’s a film that could possibly have that Iron Giant momentum; a movie largely ignored at the box office that has since become somewhat of an unsung classic. While it’s not perfect, Astro Boy covers all the necessary territory to satisfy a younger audience, while keeping adults entertained, and after almost ten years in the works, it will surely be a welcome sight for all the manga fanatics waiting for its overdue release.