ASTRO BOY - Up, Up and Away!
ASTRO BOY (animated adventure)
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Charlize Theron, Donald Sutherland, Nicholas Cage, Bill Nighy, Matt Lucas, Samuel L. Jackson and Nathan Lane
Director: David Bowers
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: My first impression of Astro Boy was that it smacks of Japanese manga - and thoughts of Spirited Away came to mind. However, when I chanced on its poster and saw the A-list cast, I started to expect something more than just the classic Astro Boy that Tezuka Osamu created in 1952 - as a Japanese version of Pinnochio.
And yup, I was not disappointed.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The little hero of the piece is the spiky-haired Toby (voice of Freddie Highmore), a child prodigy who lives in the futuristic Metro City, a robot-serviced utopia orbiting above the Earth. The planet, as we know it, has become a garbage dump, especially for discarded machines.
Toby is accidentally killed during a weapons experiment that his father, Dr Tenma (Nicolas Cage), is conducting for Metro City's President Stone (Donald Sutherland). The grieving Tenma creates an identical-looking android copy using the magical Blue Energy stone, complete with Toby's memories and consciousness (as well as the ability to fly and shoot a cache of missiles from his hands and butt). Soon, however, Tenma is disappointed with his creation and 'discards' it - just like any used machine. Finding himself on Earth, Toby is discovered both by a bunch of abandoned kids as well as a group of rebellious machines. And he becomes Astro Boy!
HITS & MISSES: Like WALL-E, this one should be a hit with both the kids and adults. Its futuristic/apocalyptic tone (which is similar to WALL-E) is nicely balanced with a Fagin-like story involving a sleazy show-promoter named Hamegg (Nathan Lane) who pits fighting robots against one another. The animation is first class - stylish yet reminiscent of 50's Disney-type cartoons. Ultimately, of course, the highlight is the clash between Astro Boy and Stone's Red-Energy Monster-Bot - and this smacks of the action in Transformers.
I like it that Dr Tenma has a dark, selfish side (in rejecting his own creation) and I can overlook some overly-childish elements obviously meant for the younger kids. Also, Astro Boy is not shot in trendy 3-D but no one will be complaining. Thanks to its top-rate cast, it accomplishes what the other manga-originated efforts - like Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution - could not, like winning over wide audiences.
THE LOWDOWN: Catch Astro Boy if you like WALL-E.
NOTE: This movie is also available in Cantonese (with voices of Aaron Kwok and Ian Iskandar Gouw) in selected cinemas.