Published Oct 22, 2009For those who haven't tired of Bush-bashing American Communist propaganda in the form of allegory, this loosely-based-on adaptation of the original '50s manga, and'80s cartoon, about a scientist who makes a robot in the form of his dead son, may prove liberating. On the other hand, anyone looking for a cohesive animated film relevant to the original series will surely be disappointed and extremely confused.
Where the original had Dr. Tenma (voiced here by Nicolas Cage) building a robot version of his son after he dies in a car accident, the film has an indestructible machine created by the villainous General Stone (Donald Sutherland) killing Astro. You see, it's an election year and Stone needs a military guardian and saviour to win him votes, get it?
After creating Astro (Freddie Highmore), Tenma struggles with depression, given the robot's constant hollow reminder of his son, which leads to his rejection of the confused boy, who then falls from the air-bound Metro City into the garbage heap miles below where broken robots are disposed of. Here he meets the rebellious Cora (Kristen Bell) and a group of dejected humans whose initial friendliness turns cold when they learn he isn't like them.
None of these plot points are particularly subtle in implication and their application is meandering and tonally baffling at best. The death of a child is juxtaposed with awkwardly executed jokes and the flabby midsection serves little narrative purpose outside of political preaching.
On the upside, the handful of action set pieces proves invigorating, as Astroboy's initial discovery of his abilities and subsequent battle against a robot gone awry pack an entertaining, visceral punch. It's just a shame that this only takes up ten-to-15 minutes of actual film time.
While critical reception in New York and L.A. should be positive ― for obvious reasons ― Astroboy is ultimately a perplexing disaster of a movie, which may amuse some children despite its overly talky nature and thematically dark material. (E1)