Starring: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron
Directed by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”)
Written by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) and Timothy Harris (“Space Jam”)
For those familiar with Japanese anime and manga, there is no one more influential from the genre than the late Osamu Tezuka, the artist behind such revered creations as “Metropolis” and “Kimba the White Lion.” If Tezuka was already on your radar, then you probably also know that in the early ’50s he published the comic book “Astro Boy,” the story of an android child created by a brilliant scientist to take the place of the son he lost in a car accident.
While most families who flock to the theaters to see the Hollywood version of Tezuka’s vision probably won’t care too much about the mythology, they should still know that the original story is much more appealing that the one director/writer David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) has jerry-rigged for us in the animated feature “Astro Boy.” Borrowing from films such as “WALL-E,” “Pinocchio,” “Oliver Twist,” and a host of other enchanting classics, Bowers fashions together some respectable computer-generated images young kids will enjoy, but the narrative is left as a mishmash of charming ideas and political undertones that transform into a fairly routine animation.
In “Astro Boy,” Dr. Tenema (Nicholas Cage, whose voice simply doesn’t fit his character no matter how creative he gets with his monotonous tone) builds a robot in the likeness of his son Toby (Freddie Highmore) who he loses in a freak laboratory accident. Not only does the android look exactly like Toby, Dr. Tenema has equipped him with all of his son’s memories.
Unable to accept his science experiment as a replacement for his dead child (he probably should’ve said something a little earlier, huh?), Dr. Tenema turns his back on the robo-boy (in the original he sells him to a circus) and leaves him to fend for himself against a pursing military who wants to destroy him. To escape, Astro leaves the bustling Metro City for a new life on Earth, the planet under his hovering metropolis, which has been reduced to a landfill (sans cute, love-struck, squared robot to clean up the mess).
There, Astro Boy befriends a group of salvage yard youngsters and their makeshift leader Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) and learns to live life as – say it with me kids – a real boy. But living on Planet Trash isn’t an option anymore when warmongering President Stone (Donald Sutherland) aims to get his hands on the positive energy source that powers Astro’s superhero abilities.
While the action sequences keep the movie from nose-diving into a scrap-metal mess, Bowers comes up short as a storyteller for anyone who won’t be begging for “Astro Boy” action figures for Christmas. For teenagers and parents, the narrative will come off as stiff as Astro Boy’s rockabilly hairdo.