‘Astro Boy’ is Here to Save Whatever is Left of the Future

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CHICAGO – The cartoon universe is replete with superheroes, none more distinct than the title character in the new animated film “Astro Boy.” Based on a Japanese comic book from 1951, Astro Boy has new life in 3-D cartoon form.

Metro City is a futuristic utopian metropolis created especially to hover over the now abandoned earth (in shades of “Wall•E,” the landscape below is now a dumping ground). The city is an efficiently run model, aided by an army of robot workers, baby sitters and civil servants.

We Can Rebuilt Him: Scene from ‘Astro Boy’
We Can Rebuilt Him: Scene from ‘Astro Boy’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicholas Cage) is working on a new energy source derived from a meteorite. This revolutionary blue sphere can create clean energy and power the whole countryside. When the evil government leader, General Stone (Donald Sutherland), gets wind of the new power source, he wants to use it in a new weapon that will solidify him as overseer of Metro City.

Dr. Tenma’s son, a scientific prodigy, gets trapped with the destructive robot and is killed as the experiment goes awry. His distraught father decides to rebuilt him as a robot, and places the blue energy source as his heart. However, the new “Astro Boy” feels like a stranger in his homeland, and exiles himself to the dumping grounds below Metro City.

Astro Boy slowly discovers his prodigious powers in his new home, which eventually leads to a confrontation with General Stone and the robot weapon.

Weapon of Mass Robotics: Scene from ‘Astro Boy’
Weapon of Mass Robotics: Scene from ‘Astro Boy’
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

While the visual elements, in this modern age of computer generated animation, are generally eye candy, the look and feel of this cartoon seems off and not as warm as other examples in the genre. Most successful is the depiction of the various robots, especially those dumped in the land below Metro City. The humans however, seem cobbled together from other sources, General Stone looked a lot like one of the characters from 1998’s “Antz.”

As in most modern cartoons, there needs to be a background “lesson,” and Astro Boy’s Pinocchio-like quest to discover the humanity in the robot form is a obvious nod to prejudice and acceptance. The filmmakers get points for the parallels to George W. Bush in the character of General Stone (to keep power, one must express power by a preemptive strike on the earth below Metro City). But overall this good/evil scenario has been seen and done before.

Essentially there is nothing, beyond the creative visual elements, to give Astro Boy any significance. His new family on earth are plucky orphans, manipulated by an oily character named Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) but this plot twist gets mashed up in the battle towards the end. Three wacky British robots are introduced, but seemingly forgotten. Beyond the inevitable confrontation of both the evil and his father in the end, the plot in Astro Boy is rather flat, despite visually being in 3-D.

This is decent family fare, but far from the expectations of modern animation. The boy who would be a robot is encased in a mechanical cartoon.

”Astro Boy” opens everywhere October 23rd. Check local listings for 3-D showings. Featuring the voices of Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Freddie Highmore, Kirsten Bell, Eugene Levy and Bill Nighy, directed by David Bowers. Rated “PG.”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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