Up, up and away: Astro Boy is hero of high-tech ’toon
Because the new computer-generated animated feature “Astro Boy” is faithful in some respects to its key sources, the 1950s comic book and 1960s TV series created by the so-called “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka, it may creep some people out — parents more than children, no doubt.
Astro Boy (voiced in the film by Freddie Highmore) is, in fact, a replica of a dead boy: He is the robotic, super-powered and human-looking creation of Dr. Tenman (Nicolas Cage), a scientist trying to replace his tragically killed son. But like Dr. Frankenstein (or the parents in Steven Spielberg’s similarly Pinocchio-esque “A.I.”), Tenman rejects his literally inhuman offspring, sending Astro Boy off on a series of perilous adventures as well as on a journey of self-acceptance.
Scripted by Timothy Harris and director David Bowers, the film augments its melancholy, somewhat eerie premise with plenty of state - of-the -CG -art science-fiction action and unfortunate sub-“Wall-E” environmental and anti-military themes, as Astro Boy — pursued by the warmongering General Stone (Donald Sutherland) — leaves the clean, floating paradise of Metro City for the literal dump heap of the Earth’s surface, where ragamuffin children scavenge discarded robot parts for a Fagin-like impresario (Nathan Lane).
Weirdly, Astro Boy also encounters a cadre of comical, Karl Marx-quoting “revolutionary” robots. It’s hard to know what to make of these “red” robots, but the movie’s more comprehensible political messages are a real drag — they add a level of “sophistication” that, in fact, is utterly hackneyed.
Must all representatives of officialdom be evil, even in a cartoon? Will kids be anything but confused by the fact that the government’s violent killer robot is named “the Peacekeeper”?
Kids may not know irony, but they know what they like. Parents may wince occasionally, but youngsters will love identifying with Astro Boy, a child-sized character with the strength — and jet-propelled rocket feet — of Iron Man.
Soaring high over Metro City, the robotic Astro Boy finds adventure with real children and grapples with real-life issues that may soar over young viewers’ heads.