- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
eed proof that the recession has hit Hollywood? Look no further than Summit Entertainment’s “Astro Boy,” the big screen revival of the popular 1960s anime by renowned Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka. After Imagi, the company in charge of making the CG animated feature, ran out of financing midway through production, it looked like the movie might never see the light of day. As you can probably tell from reading this review, that wasn’t the case. The company eventually secured the additional money it needed to finish the film, and it’s a good thing they did, because while “Astro Boy” might not exude the kind of originality we’re used to seeing in Pixar films, it makes up for it with plenty of humor and charm.
The film takes place in the distant future where most of society now resides on a floating utopia called Metro City. Robots have been domesticated and serve humans willingly, only to be dumped onto the ever-growing pile of scrap metal located on the surface below when they’ve outlived their usefulness. Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) is one of the scientists in charge of inventing the new robotic technology to replace them, but after his son Toby (Freddie Highmore) is accidentally killed during a scientific experiment, he attempts to bring him back to life by building a robotic replica from his DNA. When the warmongering president of Metro City (Donald Sutherland) tries to capture the new Toby in order to get his hands on the energy source powering him, however, he falls to the surface and meets a group of children (led by the bullheaded Cora) that help him discover his own humanity just in time to save the city.
Though the movie is essentially a sci-fi action version of “Pinocchio” (there’s even a Stromboli-like character voiced by Nathan Lane that tries to exploit Toby’s unique abilities), “Astro Boy” is still lots of fun. The animation is crisp throughout – even if it’s not quite as photorealistic as some of the stuff in Imagi’s last film – and most of the voice cast is great in their respective roles. Bill Nighy, in particular, really owns the part of Tenma's colleague, Dr. Elefun, playing down his usually emphatic voice with a kinder and gentler disposition than we're used to hearing from the British veteran. Kristen Bell is probably a little too old to be voicing the orphan girl that befriends Toby, but she handles the material just fine, while Freddie Highmore injects much-needed charisma into what could have been an otherwise bland role. The only weak actors of the group are Nicolas Cage and Donald Sutherland, both of whom have been poorly miscast.
Still, despite Cage's erratic delivery and Sutherland's one-note performance, "Astro Boy" is positively loaded with talent, including brief appearances by David Alan Grier and Alan Tudyk as a pair of window cleaning robots, Charlize Theron as the narrator of a hilarious educational video, and Samuel L. Jackson as Toby’s giant robot companion, ZOG. If there’s one standout character in the film, though, it’s a trashcan robot dog that gives Dug from “Up” a run for his money as the funniest cinematic canine of the year. In fact, much of the humor caught me off guard, because while “Astro Boy” was always bound to include some cool action sequences, I never expected it to be nearly as funny as it is. Granted, it’s probably not as nostalgic as its creators had hoped, but “Astro Boy” works even better as an animated adventure that both parents and kids can enjoy. It's like “Iron Man” for the tween set, but with the kind of charming wit that adults will love.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “Astro Boy” contains just about everything you’d expect from an animated film, including a behind-the-scenes look at the voice actors in the recording booth and two featurettes dealing with character and production design. There’s also a cool video montage of artwork from the film, as well as two brand new animated shorts.