When megabrained whitecoat Dr. Tenma (Cage) loses his son, Toby, in a baddie-robot-testing accident, he builds a droid in his boys image, filling it with state-of-the-art weaponry. But Metro Citys nefarious President Stone (Sutherland) wants a piece of
Osamu Tezuka’s jet-footed robo-tot Astro Boy has been a manga icon for well over five decades, and his influence runs as deep as his inspirations (The Powerpuff Girls are the most obvious example of the former; Pinocchio the latter). So it’s surprising that it’s taken so long for a gaijin version. Unfortunately, David Bowers’ CG-cheapie fails to handle Tezuka’s creation effectively.
A predictable origin story with nonsensical threads, it mainly concerns ultra-con President Stone’s (Donald Sutherland) attempts to harness the android-child’s mysterious “blue energy” to spark an election-winning war. Any ethical questions about building a robot in a dead child’s image are understandably glossed over, and instead Bowers yawns out the usual ‘accept who you are’ moral as Astro (Freddie Highmore) hides his circuits from his fleshling friends.
We wouldn’t be unjustified in expecting more from Bowers — while his directorial debut, Flushed Away, wasn’t exactly Aardman’s finest hour, it enjoyed an earthy charm noticably absent from the polished world of Astro Boy.
Not that it’s without its moments. Bowers can do fast-paced slapstick, as proven by one kinetic chase scene in which Stone’s screen-faced goons (who express themselves by flashing up short messages, such as three red exclamation points for surprise) attempt to ensnare their zippy quarry with cannons that shoot a snot-like gloop. Later, in the junkyard surface world that lies in the shadow of Astro’s floating hometown, Metro City, there’s a fun gladiatorbot arena sequence, featuring a bizarre cyber-menagerie of killer droids that allows Bowers’ imagination to really let rip.
In contrast, Bowers’ inclination to stack up the cast with big names lets him down. It’s one thing to get Nic Cage and Donald Sutherland in key roles, but both sound so droningly unmotivated, you wonder if they’re sleep-talking. Never has it been so obvious that we’re listening to actors in soundboxes — and we’d even suspect cameo voicers Charlize Theron and Samuel L. Jackson of literally phoning it in.
Aside from a few neat flourishes, this is attention-sapping stuff, lacking texture in both its visuals and vocal performances.