Given its long history, it is perhaps surprising that there has never been a more mainstream outing for Astro Boy.
Even if you are not familiar with the story or character, the imagery
is instantly recognisable in popular culture. Created in 1952 as one of
the original Manga comics, and later translated into a globally popular
anime series, Astro Boy was surely due a big screen outing.
When Dr. Tenma’s (Cage) son is tragically killed, he sets
about building a robot replica in the form of Astro Boy. But Astro is
powered by something that President Stone (Sutherland) will stop
at nothing to get his hands on. Along the way, Astro comes to realise
what his lot in life is to be and makes a few friends as he does.
Animation films of this type have been almost entirely monopolised by Pixar,
so Astro Boy’s history would hopefully stand it in good stead by
comparison. In terms of the look, it more than lives up to expectations.
Metro City, the floating island paradise that was created to avoid the
pollution of Earth, is wonderfully realised as a modern utopia with a
colour pallet and design similar to Pixar’s The Incredibles. Seeing this in Blu-Ray format makes you realise the loving attention to detail that has been put into the design of the city.
Astro Boy certainly has the younger audience members catered for, with its Pinocchio like morals and fairly broad comedy.
Unfortunately, the adult audience members may feel a little left out.
What humour there is for them seems to be firmly focused on paying
homage to other films. The mention of The Robot’s Revolutionary Front is
clearly a nod to The Life Of Brian but overall parents will feel a little hard done by.
Having said that, some of the film is fairly dark. Especially early
on when Tenman’s son is killed, ironically by a machine call The
Peacemaker. Director David Bowers, who directed the enjoyable Flushed Away, does a tidy job with the story and excels in the action stakes. When Astro takes to the skies, the film really soars and Bowers injects enough energy into these moments to make the Duracell Bunny green with envy.
As is the norm with animation these days, the characters are fleshed out with all manner of A-list actors. Freddie Highmore
brings a warm innocence to Astro, and continues to prove that he is one
of the few British actors who can produce a flawless American accent. Donald Sutherland is doing his normal gruff routine for the stereotypical bad guy, while Nicolas Cage seems to be on remarkably understated, bordering on disinterested, form. But it is Matt Lucas
who takes most of the laughs as Sparx the leader of the Robots
Revolutionary Front. Theron and Jackson seem to be so sparingly used you
wonder why they bothered turning up to begin with.
Astro Boy is a warm and fun film, it lacks enough of a hook for the
adult audience but the kids will undoubtedly love it. There is a loose
green message in there, but it never really materialises into anything
more than a fleeting idea. This Astro Boy aims for the stars but will have to make do with the lofty heights of Metro City.