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3 reviews, 1 rating

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Astro Boy
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Microchip Off The Old Block"
4 stars

Whether or not your respond to “Astro Boy,” the screen adaptation of Tezuka Osamu’s classic 1952 Japanese manga that would become one of the most popular and influential titles in the history of anime, will depend to a large extent on your relationship with the original property. If you are a hardcore fan of the original “Astro Boy” or of anime in general, my guess is that you are going to respond to this particular iteration with feelings ranging from vague annoyance to total outrage at the liberties that have apparently been taken with it. On the other hand, if you are like me and come into the film without any real working knowledge of “Astro Boy” beyond a vague awareness of its existence, there is a decent chance that you may find yourself responding to its fast pace, bright colors and goofy sense of humor.

Set in the bustling future metropolis of Metro City, a robot-controlled floating paradise devised by Earth’s top scientists for people to live after the planet is overrun by garbage, “Astro Boy” starts by introducing us to Toby (Freddie Highmore), the brilliant young son of eccentric scientific genius Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) whose bright future is cut short when he accompanies his dad to an experimental weapons test and is accidentally killed when things go haywire as the result of the meddling of Metro City’s power-hungry President Stone (Donald Sutherland). Filled with grief and anguish, Dr. Tenma decides to build an exact robot replica of Toby that miraculously retains his memories and personality and includes a full weapons system and the ability to fly. After a couple of days, however, Tenma becomes convinced that he has made a horrible mistake and casts the ersatz Toby away. Alas, it is at this time that President Stone discovers that Toby is being powered by a powerful energy source that he desires in order ensure his victory in the upcoming election and in the ensuing battle, Toby plunges to Earth. There, he befriends both a group of young scavengers (led by Kristen Bell) led by a seemingly friendly man (Nathan Lane) whose motives for repairing fallen robots are not as pure as they seem and the members of the Robot Revolutionary Front, a dissident group dedicated to freeing all robots from their enslavement. From this point on, Toby, now going by the name of Astro, is forced to compete in a robot gladiator battle before returning to Metro City in order to save everyone from the depravations of President Stone, who has somehow transmogrified into a giant killer robot, reconcile with his father and, not surprisingly, learn what it truly means to be human.

“Astro Boy” is kind of uneven at times--it takes a while for the story to kick in and the finale pretty much degenerates into one battle scene after another--but when it settles down, it is not without its charms. For starters, it is a lot funnier that I expected it to be--it includes slapstick for the kids, more arcane references for older viewers (such as the sight of the Robot Revolutionary Front trying to rebel against humanity while still obeying Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics) and most of the story actually plays like an odd parody of Steven Spielberg’s wildly underrated “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.” It moves quickly enough and some of the big set-pieces manage to generate a genuine level of excitement, the one in which Astro Boy first takes flight being the best of the bunch. Another thing that I liked is that for once, the big stars that have been roped into providing the voices actually suit the characters instead of serving as distractions--Cage’s peculiar cadences fit the role of Dr. Tenma in unexpectedly effective ways. That said, Charlize Theron’s contribution as the narrator for the opening scene is so brief and superfluous that I can only assume that she was hired for the part simply because the filmmakers wanted to watch her rocking the mike.

Look, “Astro Boy” isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and you shouldn’t break any plans to go see “Where the Wild Things Are” in order to catch it. Quite frankly, my relatively favorable opinion towards it may well have been influenced by the fact that I happened to see it in the middle of a long stretch of dark and depressing dramas and woefully ineffective comedies. At that point, I guess I was in the mood for something a little cheerful and silly and that is exactly what I got from it. I don’t know if I will ever see it again and I can’t say that I am eagerly anticipating future installments but for 90-odd minutes, I had a reasonable amount of fun and as long as you aren’t expecting a masterpiece, I think that you might as well.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18347&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/23/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/18/17 Charles Tatum Another Lib yankfest: Military is bad!- yawn, seen it all before 1 stars
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  23-Oct-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010


  DVD: 16-Mar-2010

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