Up, up and away: Astro Boy is hero of high-tech ’toon

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss


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.

Sum­mit En­ter­tain­ment

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.

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