Rated PG for some action and peril, and brief mild language, 90 minutes
Colorful animated remake "Astro Boy" a blast for all ages
"Astro Boy" is decent entertainment for the young set and a good diversion while parents go see "Paranormal Activity." Actually, adults may enjoy the colorful, energetic "Astro Boy" as well and may remember it in its original U.S. or Japanese TV version back in the '60s. A solid big-screen remake with some zippy, clean visuals and a talented voice talent, "Astro Boy" is a serviceable animated effort.
Set in the futuristic Metro City, "Astro Boy" concerns a young robot (Freddie Highmore) with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage), in the image of his son Toby he lost in a freak accident. Unable to fulfill Dr. Tenma's expectations, Toby, who now calls himself Astro, finds himself on a journey in search of acceptance, becoming part of a group of rowdy kids led by a girl named Cora (Kristen Bell) and supervised by their greedy, self-serving leader Ham Egg (Nathan Lane), before he returns to save Metro City to save the city from an evil politician (Donald Sutherland) who wants to rule the metropolis with an iron hand.
"Astro Boy" is an enjoyable, adventure-filled origin story that seemingly sets the stage for a series of these super-boy hero movies. Those who are old enough to remember the original TV series (you can check these out on Hulu.com, by the way) and comic books conveys the spirit of its source while making some contemporary updates. Astro Boy himself resembles the original wavy-haired character but updated with fresh gadgetry and characters, good given that its sci-fi "Pinocchio"-style premise is a tad creepy if you think about it too much.
Directed with zeal David Bowers of "Flushed Away," "Astro Boy" has too many elements of other movies and TV shows - "The Jetsons" and "Spider Man" come to mind here the latter particuarly when "Astro Boy" discovers his powers, not to mention a disjointed ending, but it's designed to appeal to the younger set, and on that level, it works fine. It also helps that the first-rate animation is crisp and bright, filled with energy and well-voiced by an A-list cast.
Astro is voiced with emotion by child actor Freddie Highmore of "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and "August Rush," who's partnered with the equally likable, peppy Bell of "Heroes." Add Donald Sutherland and Nathan Lane as the bad guys, Nicolas Cage as Astro's Dad, Bill Nighy as a caring scientist and Eugene Levy as a comical robot and "Astro Boy" ends up a worthy animated effort. Listen closely for Samuel L. Jackson and Charlize Theron in barely-there voice cameos that make their star-billing baffling.
There are some fun, snappy scenes in "Astro Boy," the best of which involves a big robot named Zog, and Astro fighting some robots "Gladiator" style and it runs smoothly until a badly conceived climax. It's an overlong, rather ostentatious battle between good and evil, but even with that its primary audience, the kiddoes, will have a blast as Astro saves the day. "Astro Boy" should be a modest hit, which should give way to more big-screen, high-flying adventures of our pint-sized hero.