Released October 15, 2009
I confess to never having seen the original series – either of them. Signs of my deprived childhood perhaps, though I am familiar with other luminaries such as Bananaman, SuperTed and Danger Mouse.
It needn’t matter, since this CG-animated revision is similar to many other recent superhero-origin stories. All the usual elements are here: science experiments gone wrong, disenchantment with the father, a nasty villain, glorious action and comic relief in the form of three inept robots claiming to represent the “Robot Revolutionary Front”.
In the world of Astro Boy, the floating Metro City, robots are marginalised in society as workers and slaves. A new addition to their ranks is the hero of the title, a robot created in the likeness of Dr. Tenema’s (Nicholas Cage) tragically dead son. With rocket boots in place of feet and hair that magically always keeps its form, he flees to the wasteland below in search of his new identity. There he comes across our three bumbling revolutionaries and a kid-dominated Neverland. Catching his eye is the attractive free spirit Cora (Kristen Bell) and the kids’ father figure Hamegg (Nathan Lane), who is obsessed with robots and is suspicious of their latest visitor.
Naturally there’s a nefarious politician played by dependable bad-guy Donald Sutherland and the requisite mixture of explosions and character development. It’s all very entertaining, surprisingly funny and layered with interesting but mostly unexplored science-fiction themes about the ethics and politics of artificial intelligence. There’s even more than one mention of Asimov‘s three rules of robotics.
Where it fails is the script, which is obsessed with re-stating that which is clearly visible on screen. Unnecessary platitudes abound, such as when Bill Nighy‘s massive-nosed Dr. Elefun magically appears at the climax and proclaims Astro Boy a noble hero. It’s a shame because the story is strong, the animation fine and the heroic John Ottman score better than anything written for any recent comparable live-action superhero flick. It inhibits, but doesn’t ruin this amiable animated alternative to the usual superhero schtick whose main problem stems from the filmmakers’ lack of faith in their audience.