Brilliant Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) is despondent following the tragic death of his young son Toby (Freddie Highmore). To salve his loss, the inventor creates a substitute for his dead boy and powers his creation with pure “blue” energy from a fallen star, giving the robot-son incredible abilities. But, Tenma realizes that his invention is not a replacement for his flesh and blood and the young robot must reinvent himself as “Astro Boy.”
Director David Bowers adapts, with co-scribe Timothy Harris, the story from the popular Japanese television series by Osamu Tezuka and the result is an amusing, nice to look at tale about grief, heroism, father-son conflict, good versus evil (as “blue” positive energy against “red” negative emery – blue states versus red states, get it?), fitting in and sacrificing for others. This is a lot to stuff into a scant 93 minutes but the filmmakers shoehorn it all in.
Man has ravaged, once again, the earth but has escaped the global trashcan by building a flying landscape, Metro City, to hover above the Earth, all the while dumping their refuse, including worn out robots, onto the planet. Leader of the city, President Stone (Donald Sutherland), learns that his genius scientist has harnessed the power from a fallen star and the blue energy could not just change Metro City but save the ravaged Earth, too! But, there is a down side – the negative red energy that is good for nothing but total destruction.
The president is only concerned with his own political power and decides to use the red energy in his Peacekeeper robot, a device that will solidify his hold on Metro City. However, as I said, the red energy is destructive and the robot runs amok, killing Dr. Tenma’s son Toby. The doctor is grief stricken and has a kind of nervous breakdown. Using his robotic genius, he creates a substitute for his dead son, imbuing the cyberbot with Toby’s thoughts, knowledge, memories – and the blue energy. As much as Tenma tries, though, he cannot love his creation, his grief over Toby’s death too much to overcome, and banishes the robot boy to the desolate earth surface.
On Earth, Toby-clone learns that he has extraordinary powers and runs into a small tribe of
orphaned children, led by Cora (Kristen Bell), who scour the surface for robot scrap to be used by Hamegg (Nathan Lane). The former scientist, once Tenma’s colleague, uses the recovered bits to cobble together robot gladiators that battle each other as entertainment for the denizens of the once beautiful Earth. Eventually, Toby, now named Astro by his friends, gives himself away and is forced to fight in the gladiatorial ring. His powers, though, make him invincible on the field of battle and he bests all comers. Meanwhile, back on Metro City, the president has unleashed an even more powerful Peacekeeper that wreaks havoc. It is up to Astro to save the day.
The film is aimed at the older kids – the scary Peacekeeper may be too much for the younger tykes – but the parents, older siblings and aunts and uncles accompanying them get some clever humor that will sail over younger heads. I chuckled frequently at the adult-themed jokes and visuals and admire the intelligence of some of the more subtle gags. The story, though, is for the younger viewers and they get their (or mom’s and dad’s) monies worth.
There are references galore to robot and other film genres. The most obvious are “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Iron Giant,” “Transformers” and “War of the Worlds,” but there are also refs to the old “Lassie” films, “Godzilla” and others. For the Isaac Asimov fans there is homage to the Robot Laws from I, Robot.
“Astro Boy” is a good candidate for a 3D release but that is not in the cards. There is enough going on to make that extra dimension an excellent addition to the finished product. The CGI animation is crisp and colorful, the characters have some complexity and there is clever enough writing to keep the parents amused while the kids have fun. It should be trimmed to tightened things up and fix the sometimes too slow pacing. I give it a B.
Laura did not see this film.
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