- Reviewed by: 00Dylan
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Astro Boy is a computer-animated film adaptation of a 1952 Japanese manga series, which in 1963 became the very first anime. It revolves around Astro Boy (Freddy Highmore), a powerful little robot boy created by Doctor Tenma (Nicholas Cage) to replace his deceased son Toby. When Dr. Tenma is unable to truly accept him as a son, Astro has difficulty finding his place in the world.
For a movie primarily aimed at children, Astro Boy has some pretty dark elements to it. Tenma recreates Toby and, in doing so, brings his son back into the world. Toby is unaware of what has happened and is led to believe that he's the same boy he's always been. Then, the bombshell of his true identity is dropped on him, along with his father practically discarding him. Kids will no doubt connect with Toby/Astro when he's sad, but they won't fully grasp just how heartbreaking this is, leaving adults to sympathize with him even more.
There's also a running gag based on Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, as well as what seems to be some out-of-place political commentary involving a warmongering president. Taking all of this into consideration, you realize just how much Astro Boy has to offer adults.
The idea of being different than everybody else is touched on in numerous family films. The message is always the same: just be yourself, and people will like you. But in this case, it's not Astro accepting who he is that wins everyone over, though it does earn him some friends. But it isn't until he saves the day that everyone finally comes around. Unintentional as it may be, the message seems to be: do good, and people will like you. I think that's a much better message.
The story is ultimately very similar to what we've seen in the past, and at an hour and a half it's a little rushed, but the character of Astro Boy seems more important than anything else in the movie, and he's a great character. Freddie Highmore, who most probably know as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, does a good job as the voice of Astro, though it wasn't too demanding.
One of the cardinal rules of animated movies should be to never use actors with recognizable voices. Maybe it already is a cardinal rule, but nobody seems to follow it. Nicholas Cage, Nathan Lane, and Donald Sutherland do the voices of Dr. Tenma, Ham Egg, and President Stone, respectively. And while they all do fine jobs, it just proved to be too distracting. You could make the claim that a live action movie is no different - in addition to hearing their voices, you also have to see the actors' faces. But that's exactly why it's different. It's that disconnect between hearing a recognizable voice coming out of a unrecognizable face that makes it hard to focus.
Astro Boy is nothing amazing but it has more heart than a lot of its computer-animated competition. It's also very funny and very genuine, if that makes sense. It's too bad that it was a such a flop, grossing a little more than half its budget, because it's a good movie that could have spawned a great sequel, or dare I dream, a trilogy.
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