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He's Got Machine Guns in his Butt!

Movie Title: Astro Boy (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Director David Bowers’ Astro Boy is like The Jetsons mixed with Wall-e, sprinkled with a few shakes of something off of Robocop in the style of an Esurance advertisement. It is an oddball as surely as it is optimistic to win over its viewing audience. It doesn’t really succeed, but if it were sentient and could hear me telling it that it is anything less than golden, it wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Astroboy the movie is based on the revered Astro Boy Japanese television series created in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka. Since its beginning, the story has undergone some changes, but none have been so bold as to replace the theme still intact in the film about an accomplished Minister of Science, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) who, due to his grief, uses the greatest technology in existence to bring to life an android replica of his deceased son.

I won’t give away too much of the story as it is one that has not yet lost its “new plot smell,” but the movie does not do as well as the heartily impressive trailers floating around the internet make it out to do. The entertainment value isn’t quite as high as was promised. Astro Boy is a lot of things, including technologically showy and “on the sleeves” emotional while lacking a strong verbal vibe or intellectual acuity.

Astro Boy may not educate children, but it does educate us. Astro-boy reminds us that Wall-e has many fans and that there are writers who stand ready to dance on the minefield of semi-shameless rip-offs to try and make a respectable movie—in this case, a movie that involves trash compactors with bad senses of humor and barking robot dog trashcans. I’m still scratching my head on those two. Astro-boy tells us that junkyards are just plain fun. And last but not least, Astro-boy tells us that voice acting can be done badly.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why these characters don’t completely win you over, but Astro Boy and his female admirer Cora (Kristen Bell) do begin to grow on you. The only truly touching character in the whole lot is Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy), Dr. Tenma’s close friend and scientist colleague. His is a genuine character with radiant appeal.

Astro Boy does bring with it an adept devising of science fiction. A comet brings to earth positive and negative energies. We are never bored with exhaustive details, but are informed of the basics we need. With just the right amount of vagueness, we learn that the good (blue) and the bad (red) energies can be harnessed to great use. These energies work in sync with the nature of man. Blue is the permeating life-force, the robotic version of a spirit energy. Red is the aggressive, negative force.

These two opposing power sources are mightily sought after, with the dangerous one falling into the hands of President Stone (Donald Sutherland), Metro City’s villainous leader seeking reelection at all costs. “I’ve got an election to win” is his favorite line. He says it over and over and over. He wants to remain president of his massive floating city, but he doesn’t have enough sense to realize that if you attack it Godzilla-style with an ED-209-style military super-droid, you won’t win any votes.

Metro City is a droid-obsessed city in the clouds where the robots do everything. When they cease to be useful, they are trashed and thrown to that growing garbage heap of Earth’s surface. Others are then made to take their place. Some of these robots that survive on the ground are sentient and view citizens of Metro City as tyrannical and cruel. Astro Boy’s role in the story is to serve as a kind of go-between, a boy/machine, implanted with the memories and nature of a human being. But the plot is never seriously focused enough on bridging the gap of what it means to be a human-robot, nor on how this should change the outlook of others. The viewer is led to instead remain dazzled on Astro Boy’s Superman-level strength and his fate at the hands of power-crazed President Stone.

The story of Astro Boy is warm and touching, but will need your forgiveness for some repeated feeble attempts at humor. Still, no one said there aren’t six-year-olds lined up to laugh at these antics. To tickle the comically challenged Japanese fan-base are a few advertisements of a shirtless young Astro Boy wearing boots and red wrestling trunks (which, thankfully, didn’t make it into the movie), and a large, sky-floating octopus alien attacking earth.

The classics will just never die…like the memory of a lost child, or for the Japanese, things like skyscraper-sized sea creatures and monsters that attack cities. If I were Japanese, I’m sure it would bring a tear to my eye too, but I’m not Japanese, and so I say along with the rest of us that I’m glad we had no more such “shout-outs” to home.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rating: PG
Director: David Bowers
Summary: A young, human-like robot with incredible powers seeks life and a relationship with his creator.
Starring: Nicolas Cage “Dr. Tenma” (voice), Kristen Bell “Cora” (voice) Charlize Theron “Narrator” (voice), Samuel L. Jackson “Zog” (voice), Bill Nighy “Dr. Elefun” (voice), Freddie Highmore “Astro Boy” (voice), Donald Sutherland, “President Stone” (voice)
Genre: Animation / Action / Family / Sci-Fi
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