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Astro Boy

Soaring to the Screen at Long Last

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about Astro Boy is that it took Japanís beloved cartoon robot more than half a century to make his big-screen debut. Originally conceived in 1951 by famed animator Osamu Tezuka as Tetsuwan Atomu, or Mighty Atom, and later reinvented as Astro Boy for American TV in the 60s, the boy with the mechanical body and the soul of a sprightly, overconfident child gets his origin story retold in the latest piece of eye candy from Flushed Away director David Bowers.

When Toby (voiced by Freddie Highmore, of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is killed in one of his fatherís experiments gone awry, brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) hastily constructs a lookalike replacement powered by the energy-rich Blue Core. (A dangerous alternative, the less stable Red Core, is favored by the warmongering President Stone, voiced by Donald Sutherland.) Tenma then loses interest in the poor Ďbot, leaving the newly manufactured Astro Boy dejected, but thatís OK because there are bad guys to fight in Metro City, a technology-rich city in the sky.

Metro City orbits the earth, which, as has been depicted in other futuristic fantasies like WALL*E, is now a polluted wasteland and a dumping ground for abandoned robots. Astro Boy, who can fly and comes equipped with handy cannons, visits there long enough to make a fair-weather human friend (Kristen Bell) and suffer the indignities of a robot death match. Then itís back to Metro City to lead the Blues against the wasteful Reds in a showdown loaded with obvious, liberal-leaning symbolism.

Astro Boyís story is intriguing and sometimes complicated one, and if it doesnít seem as creatively rich as WALL*E, it doesnít condescend to its audience, either. Whether that will be enough to satisfy fans of the hugely popular cartoon, unseen by me, will help determine whether Bowersí movie launches a full-fledged franchise. Based on the evidence here, which is funny, entertaining and attractively rendered by Imagi Animation Studios, the prospect seems an appealing one.