- Directed by David Bowers
- Screenplay by Timothy Hyde Harris and David Bowers
- Starring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron and Nicolas Cage
- Classification: PG
In the days when TV cartoons weren't available 24/7, kids lived for Saturday mornings and Bugs Bunny. But in the mid-1960s something quite different started showing upon the dial - the saucer-eyed characters and captivatingly odd stories of Japanese anime.
The new CGI-animated feature Astro Boy is based on the first Japanese animated show to hit North American sets. And while it probably won't satisfy die-hard anime junkies, it should awaken nostalgia in parents of a certain vintage, who caught the often bizarre adventures of a rocket-powered superhero robot kid way back when.
Directed by Brit David Bowers ( Flushed Away ) and produced by Hong Kong CGI-animation house Imagi Studios (2007's TMNT ), Astro Boy is a well-oiled machine that hinges too much on story and visual elements that audiences will recognize from Pinocchio , Oliver Twist , Iron Giant , Wall-E and even Robocop . Despite its lack of originality, though, the family-friendly movie is smartly written, brisk and fun and. As well, it respects the spirit of the TV original, which explored both racial tensions (robot servants versus human masters) and environmental issues.
Astro Boy began as a manga created by legend Osamu Tezuka, whose Mushi Studios produced three seasons of the TV show. Rejigged for audiences on this side of the Pacific, Astro Boy was a hit, and after the first run of its black-and-white episodes became one of the most popular syndicated series in the late 1960s, disappearing around 1970 when colour became a must. ( Astro Boy was reincarnated for shorter-run TV series in the 1980s and again this decade.)
Nicolas Cage, a fan of the first series, tried unsuccessfully to get a live-action movie project rolling over the years. He gets a piece of the action in Astro Boy , voicing Dr. Tenna, a top scientist and single dad who lives with his gifted son, the spiky-haired Toby (Freddie Highmore), in Metro City, an urban oasis floating above garbage-strewn Earth.
After Toby dies during a weapons-test accident, Dr. Tenna channels his sorrow into building an android look-alike equipped with lots of handy weaponry and holding Toby's memories. Tenna powers the kid with "blue core," a newly discovered source of powerful positive energy that villainous war-monger President Stone (Donald Sutherland) wants to insert in a new robot weapon.
Robot Toby learns he's not a real boy when his father-creator rejects him after catching him cavorting with the robot help. The kid eludes capture by the President's drones and crashes to Earth where a band of revolutionary robots try to recruit him into their liberation movement. But Astro, as he now calls himself, prefers to hide the truth of his inner circuitry and hang out with a bunch of rag-tag human orphans who scavenge robot scraps for the Fagin-like Hamegg (Nathan Lane).
Astro has a knack for reviving robots and becomes the star of the gang. But when he discovers the rebooted robots are simply being used as gladiators - not to mention that Hamegg has his number - Astro can no longer hide his true identity and a superhero emerges from the rubble.
Astro Boy definitely sets himself up for a sequel, and the overall scenario is ripe to explore many current issues. But let's hope the creators trade in the well-used parts for some fresh material.
Special to The Globe and Mail