Review: 'Astro Boy'
Plot: A robot boy, created by a grieving scientist in the image of his dead son, embraces his destiny to become a hero.
Bottom line: "Astro" boys and girls will be very, very young audiences. Boomers beware.
Cast: Voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Samuel L. Jackson
'Astro Boy' soars in Japan, but not here
Appropriately, perhaps, there's something robotic about "Astro Boy," the computer-animated feature based on the 1960s Japanese series that was the first anime on U.S. TV. Creator Osamu Tezuka's streamlined, saucer-eyed vision drew in baby boomers with its off-kilter quality and the rat-a-tat dialogue of English vocal artists dubbing at Japanese-language pace. Astro Boy himself - an android Pinocchio - proved enticing: What would it be like to be a kid robot? Cool!
But "Astro Boy" the movie is strictly for small fry. The fleshy, foamy CGI makes characters look like plush toys - there's no attempt at the anime aesthetic - giving scenes that should feel exhilarating, like Astro Boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore) learning that he can fly, all the impact of a soft landing.
Following the surprisingly harrowing death of scientist Dr. Tenma's son Toby, Tenma (Nicolas Cage) builds a robot replica replete with memories. After Tenma rapidly disowns him, robot Toby, chased by the villainous President Stone (Donald Sutherland), falls from the floating Metro City to the garbage-strewn ghetto of the surface world. There, the Fagin-like Hamegg (Nathan Lane) and a group of orphans take him in. A comic subplot with the Three Stooges-like Robert Revolutionary Front gives him the new name Astro.
Cage's voice work as Tenma is all tossed-off flatness, and while Bill Nighy gives care and humanity to colleague Dr. Elefun, even he can't save such dead-weight lines as "Everyone has their destiny." Sutherland's ignorant, warmongering president is a plodding caricature, not helped by the hammered-home symbolism of "blue core" / "red core" positive and negative energy sources. At least the animators got rid of the long eyelashes that made the original Astro look creepily like Betty Boop.