Astro BoyThursday 04 Feb 2010
Director: David Bowers
Starring: the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Matt Lucas, Nathan Lane, Charlize Theron and Samuel L Jackson.
Duration: 94 minutes
Known to millions of wide awake children and bleary eyed parents, Japan's 'Astro Boy' has been fighting the good fight on TV since 1963, but it's taken him until now to get a feature-length cinema adventure in English. He reaches the big screen with the voice of 'Finding Neverland's Freddie Highmore and some Hollywood A-listers for company - and enough of a plot to stop adults catching up on 40 winks.
The story focuses on the origins of the pint-sized hero and how youngster Toby (Highmore) became robot-with-a-heart Astro Boy (Highmore again) after a freak accident during a military demonstration involving the boy's scientist father, Dr Tenma (Cage).
With an election coming up, the dodgy President of Metro City (Sutherland) is keen to have a campaign trump card and Astro Boy holds the key.
After a couple of mishaps Astro ends up with the 'losers' down on earth. There he meets a gang of young tearaways and the Robot Revolutionary Front ("Viva la Robotolucion") and gets plenty of life lessons about machines and man.
It won't stick in the memory like, say, a 'Monsters, Inc' or 'Lilo and Stitch', but 'Astro Boy' is a fairly quick 90 minutes. From the hero's quiff to Metro City, the animation is beautiful and for those who are old enough to look beyond just the action there are messages about the environment, tolerance, the danger of power and the importance of relationships.
The big disappointment comes with the gags. There are some good one-liners but given the talent assembled for the English-language version, you'd expect a lot more. And if there is a second instalment, they should forget about trying to be too clever by referring to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and brush up on the belly laughs - humour can provide a great education, too.