October 22, 2009

Astro Boy

Astro Bug Zapper

Grade: B –

Director: David Bowers

Starring the voices of: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, and Nathan Lane

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

The weighty themes accompanying the newest update of Astro Boy, the iconic Japanese comic book-cum-cartoon series, are welcome in the all-too banal arena of contemporary (non-Pixar) animated films.

Directed by Aardman Animations vet David Bowers, this origin story takes place in the futuristic Metro City, a floating metropolis carved from an earthen surface it now uses as a giant landfill. When one of Metro’s leading scientists (voiced by Nicholas Cage) loses his son, Toby (Freddy Highmore), during a laboratory accident, he implants Toby’s neural makeup into a robotic doppelganger equipped with extraordinary powers. Unable to fulfill his grieving father/creator’s expectations and hunted by the government, ‘Astro Boy’ finds refuge with defrocked human surface dwellers, with whom he learns lessons about prejudice, heroism, and the essence of humanity.

Heady stuff, indeed, but it’s unfortunately crammed inside a paint-by-numbers storyline assembled from cinematic spare parts. The celebrity voicework is above average, but they’re used for clich├ęd characters merely servicing the next blast of Astro’s rocket legs or laser-cannon arms.

Neil Morris

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