Astro Boy (2009) David Bowers

Production Budget: $65 million

Worldwide Gross: $39 million

Astro Boy is set in the future where the Earth has been ruined by pollution. Metro City floats above the clouds and was an escape from the polluted surface. When Dr. Temna’s (Nic Cage) son dies in a military accident, he uses all the latest in robot technology and puts his son’s memories in Astro Boy (Freddie Highmore). The military headed by President Stone (Donald Sutherland) pursues Astro because the technology would make an unstoppable army for him.

Now it almost seems like a standard disclaimer but I have not seen the original source material so I don’t know how faithful it is. I am just judging this as a movie.

Now I have to admit, Astro Boy is several times better than I was ever expecting. By the time the end credits started rolling, I felt that it was an amusing time waster. That being said, there were things keeping me from really liking it and they didn’t really stand out for me. It actually took some time for me to figure out what exactly was wrong with it.

The movie had many good concepts, but is bland in its execution and ends up as a cookie cutter animated movie. You could have a touching story involving Tenma and Astro. Tenma ignores his son while he is alive due to work and when Astro dies he is racked with guilt. Tenma tries to create a perfect copy of his son but realizes after that is is just not him. This had the potential to deal with issues about parenting and identity and the sense of belonging. Instead no effort or thought seems to be put into it. There is no natural arc to the characters and their changes. It appears like they change simply because the scripts says so. Tenma doesn’t love his son…oh now he does. It’s almost that same kind of lifeless feeling reading that text that you get from the movie.

Things are not helped by a villain which is a clear parallel to George W. Bush. Yeah, the movie goes there. President Stone wants to make a fictitious war with the “surface” in order to win the next election. We see Stone bumble around saying Bush-isms and acting like the dumb politician. Now I’m a Democrat and I certainly have issues with Bush, but even this seems like an odd platform to make a political statement. It is a hamfisted message that does nothing but piss off a certain set of your adult audience and baffle another part. In a manga that has aliens and robots in it, do we really need to shoehorn in a bad political message. Not to mention a rather poor attempt at ripping off/paying homage to Wall E.

The voice acting is alright. Freddie Highmore does a great job as Astro and Kristen Bell is also nice. Sutherland is lousy as a President Bush and his performance has little energy. Some other actors come in (Sam Jackson, Charlize Theron, Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy) but their roles are so minor I didn’t even know they were in the movie till I saw them listed on IMDb. And I know some of you might be curious about this movie because of Nic Cage. Trust me, he doesn’t do anything crazy in this movie or deliver any funny lines. Like Sutherland, Cage’s performance is really toned down and rather lifeless. I don’t think he raises his voice once in the entire movie.

I have bitched a lot about this movie, but as I mentioned in the beginning, I am only highlighting what was keeping this from being a great kids movie. The animation is stylized and well done. The action scenes are pretty interesting, the story (while cookie cutter) does enough to get by with younger audiences, and the acting is alright. Believe me, it says something when watching a kids movie doesn’t feel like a chore. There are worse movies you could subject your children too. In the end, it is an okay movie but problems keep it from being really enjoyable.

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