Lovely dollops of wit and warmth float through the latest Japanese TV cartoon to make it to the big screen. But the look, themes and slam-bang Transformers violence of that 1960s animated series make this every bit as dated as Speed Racer, even if it is easier to watch.
It’s about a Pinocchio with rocket engines for legs, X-ray eyes and a swirly just-got-dunked-in-the-toilet hairdo. Like that little wooden puppet, Astro Boy greets the world with an open heart. He was built to replace a lost son by the boy’s scientist/father. Dad (voiced by Nicolas Cage) made him indestructible so that he would never “lose him again.”
But Dad has changed his mind. The kid (Freddie Highmore) is discarded, like every other robot in Metro City, which hovers over littered, polluted planet Earth. Astro meets the surface dwellers, young Oliver Twist orphans who scrounge busted robots for the Fagin-like Ham Egg (Nathan Lane). Astro competes in the arena brawls of the Robot Games, falls in with the comical Robot Revolutionary Front and becomes a pawn in the Metro City president’s cynical plans to start a war with the surface dwellers just so he (Donald Sutherland) can win re-election.
Director David Bowers was an artist on Shark Tale, Prince of Egypt and Wallace & Gromit, so he gets the look right. A subversive streak in the script means that empathy and the dangers of warmongering and disposable consumerism aren’t all kids will learn. But none of this keeps this thinly plotted cartoon from sagging.
Voices: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland.
Director: David Bowers.
Screenwriters: David Bowers, Timothy Harris. Based on the comics by Osamu Tezuka.
Producer: Maryann Garger.
A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 93 minutes. Some action and peril, brief mild language. Playing at area theaters.