**1/2 (out of 5)
October 23, 2009
Kristen Bell as CORA
Nicolas Cage as DR. TENMA
Samuel L. Jackson as ZOG
Charlize Theron as NARRATOR
Bill Nighy as DR. ELEFUN
Freddie Highmore as ASTRO BOY
Donald Sutherland as GENERAL STONE
Eugene Levy as ORRIN
Nathan Lane as HAM EGG
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Directed by: David Bowers
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
After seeing “Astro Boy,” I told a friend that it lay somewhere between “WALL-E” and “Space Chimps.” I will be the first to acknowledge that this is one heck of a divide, but it’s the best way I can encapsulate the film for a fresh eye.
What started as a rare breed, soon turned into a glut and has now become the standard of animation, computer generated films offer varying levels of quality. The Pixar movies and many of the DreamWorks releases are excellent films that are rarely touched by the rest of the fray, so don’t expect “Astro Boy” to compete. Yet, this new flick is a lot better than some of the real terrible CGI films to hit the screens, like “Doogal” and “Happily N’Ever After.”
If I were to compare “Astro Boy” to any one film, I’d say it reminds me the most of FOX’s “Robots,” which wasn’t a great movie but was a fun time with the kids.
Based on a best-selling magna series, “Astro Boy” tells the story of a genius child named of an inventor who lives in Metro City, a floating utopia over a forgotten Earth. When the kid is accidentally vaporized in a weapons test, his father builds a new robotic child and imbues it with his son’s memories. Unfortunately, the robotic son isn’t a complete replacement and the inventor considers dismantling him. The robotic child soon discovers his nature and escapes the floating city, where he finds new friends on the surface and must eventually battle the evil president of Metro City who has harnessed negative energy to create a robot warrior.
Wow. When I boil the plot down like this, it doesn’t seem like a kids’ movie at all.
From an animation standpoint, “Astro Boy” is quite impressive. The production design is top notch and it does capture the essence of futuristic science fiction. And the animated battle sequences are pretty cool to watch.
Unfortunately, the film suffers with a plot that isn’t quite baked all the way through. First, it’s got some pretty heavy story elements, not the least of which is the human son being vaporized in a weapon’s test. Sure, it’s a bloodless death, but it’s pretty dark for your average five-year-old. This potentially leads to some pretty weighty discussions with your kids if they ask too many questions. In addition, the story offers some points about abandonment issues and really paints the inventor father as a horrid person, unintentionally.
Other story issues stem from the fact that the movie tries to have two separate plots. On one hand, it’s the story of Astro Boy dealing with his father’s rejection and battling the president of Metro City. On the other hand, its a rough coming-of-age story as Astro Boy learns to accept himself for who he is on the Earth’s surface. This second plot leads to a pre-climax moment in a robot battle arena that is just a tad too reminiscent of Pokemon and Bakugan for my tastes.
Last year, I noticed that the more celebrity voices a CGI animated movie has, the lower the quality of the show. “The Tale of Despereaux” was a fine example, but nothing was more evident of this trend than the wretched “Delgo,” which was loaded with name actors but reeked as a movie. “Astro Boy” has a full slate of stars doing the voices, and this has the appearance of being an attempt to mask a better story.
With all these criticisms, I will say that my kids did love the movie. It has plenty of action, and there’s a Saturday morning TV-special quality about the characters and their relationships that my sons both liked. It’s relatively short, clocking in at just over 90 minutes, so it can be a decent film to watch as a family.
Just remember that a big selling point for my kids to see this movie was the line, “I have machine guns… in my butt?” Viewer, be warned.