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Film review: Blah 'Astro Boy' a rehash of other, better movies

Published: Friday, Oct. 23 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Astro, a robot voiced by Freddie Highmore, is the title character in the movie "Astro Boy."

Summit Entertainment

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ASTRO BOY — ★★ — Animated feature starring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage and others; rated PG (violence, slurs, brief drugs); in general release

The title character in "Astro Boy" is cobbled together from spare parts lying around a robotics laboratory. He's a mechanical Frankenstein's monster — minus the monster part.

As for the film itself, this animated adaptation of the Japanese comics characters and concepts appears to have been cobbled together from parts of other, better movies.

Among the sources of inspiration are "Iron Man" and the "Spider-Man" movies, as well as its fellow animated features "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles." Even more blatant are its similarities to "Pinocchio."

But this film would be more tolerable if its influences weren't so obvious and blatant, and if it weren't such a muddled, generic origin tale.

After all, it has good design and features decent, computer-generated animation. In terms of story, though, it's just sort of blah.

Freddie Highmore stars as the voice of Toby, the son of Dr. Tenma (the voice of Nicolas Cage).

The boy is killed after he sneaks into a top-secret weapons demonstration his father is hosting.

So the grieving, guilt-ridden scientist creates a robotic version of Toby, using some of his genetic material and memories. (Highmore, obviously, provides the voice for this character as well.)

Unfortunately, this artificial Toby can't comfort Tenma, who rejects him. So the despondent boy robot leaves and heads to the bleak city down below. (Toby and the others live in Metro City, a sleek, futuristic floating community.)

In the meantime, governmental forces, led by General Stone (Donald Sutherland), are trying to find our hero, who is now going by the name Astro. He's powered by "positive" interstellar matter, can fly and has other powers. They're hoping to use him as a weapon.

Director David Bowers and co-screenwriter Timothy Harris spend too much time on tangential story material. The film even features the same pro-environmental, anti-wastefulness message of last year's "WALL-E."

And the voice performances are inconsistent at best. Cage sounds bored, and Eugene Levy is stuck voicing a robotic manservant — one of the film's awful attempts at comic relief.

"Astro Boy" is rated PG and features strong animated violent content (robotic brawling, explosive and vehicular mayhem, and child-in-peril elements), some slapstick-style violence, vulgar humor and references (scatological in nature), derogatory language and slurs, and brief drug content (inoculations). Running time: 94 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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