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ASTRO BOY

SYNOPSIS:
In futuristic robot-served Metro City long after it rose up above the decaying Earth surface, brilliant scientist Dr Tenma (Nicolas Cage) has created a super powerful 'blue core' energy source - but lost his young son in the process. Devastated, he builds a robot replica informed by his son's DNA as well as superhuman powers such as strength, x ray vision and rocket propelled flying. But Toby (Freddie Highmore) thinks he's human - and when he learns otherwise, he is conflicted and lonely, but makes new friends, including Cora (Kristen Bell) on the remnants of the planet below Metro City. But his special powers are sought by ambitious President Stone (Donald Sutherland) who is seeking re-election and will have nothing get in his way. Toby, nicknamed Astro Boy by his new friends, has to fight for his life in the robot championships of Battlebot run by the greedy Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) before discovering his real destiny.

Review by Louise Keller:
It may be the gleaming blue core power source that allows Astro Boy to function as a superhero robot, but it is the massive heart of the story that makes this updated animated spectacular a sure-fire winner. Astro Boy is a much loved character that originated in a Japanese comic book back in 1951 and has since been the star of several television series both in Japan and America. His big screen debut is sure to impress old and new fans alike; it's an exciting, heart warming story with humour, splendid visual effects and a big-name Hollywood voice cast.

The central premise of a father's love for his son is the glue that keeps this endearing story together. There's also the conflict between the blue and red core energy, symbolising good & evil, and the intangible element of humanity that the robotic Astro Boy embodies. But all these elements are delivered effortlessly as part of the adventure in which we partake. Our eyes open as wide as Astro Boy's as we are taken to the floating paradise of Metro City, where robots of all shapes and sizes care for their owners. We get a sense of everyday life as Freddie Highmore's curious and ultra-smart Toby, who craves to spend more time with his father, heads to the lab to witness the newly created blue core energy. Nicolas Cage is perfect as the conflicted physicist father, whose love for his son prompts him to create a super-version. I love the scene in which Toby (aka Astro Boy) discovers his super-powers. It begins when he hears the chatter between two window-cleaning robots, squirting and squeegeeing the outside windows of the skyscraper... The super-powers, by the way, include fire-powered legs that allow him to fly and guns at the ready - front and back. Like Superman, he's strong, too.

There's an appealing mix of characters including Eugene Levy's hilarious robot Orrin, Nathan Lane's Ham Egg, who repairs robots from the scrap heap to participate in Gladiator-like contests, Donald Sutherland's ambitious General Stone, Samuel L. Jackson's gigantic Zog and Kristen Bell's warm-hearted Cora. Bill Nighy's distinctively English voice seems at odds with Dr Elefun's squat, koala-like scientist, who always promotes common sense. Watch out for the funny sequence in which the Barking Trash-Can robot tries to divulge Astro Boy's secret.

The animation from Hong Kong's Imagi animation studio is simple and conducive to the story, which screenwriter Timothy Harris (Twins, Kindergarten Cop) has artfully structured. Special effects are exactly that and deliver everything we can hope for, in this magical and enthralling adventure suitable for everyone.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although all the story elements of Astro Boy are familiar, the package is sure-fire entertainment (even if not for me). To their credit, the filmmakers put story first and foremost and let the CG animation deliver in its service - which it does in triumphant style. The Astro Boy character has legions of fans, yet the film still seems to need a high profile cast to voice the film; what if they were unknown voice actors, I wonder....

The symbolism and the underlying themes within this story may not be relevant to its core audience, but it's interesting to see how filmmakers feed off those elements: the father son relationship theme, the good 'blue core' v evil 'red core' theme, the coming of age theme (recognising one's true path), the sacrifice and redemption theme ... But of course much of this is buried amidst the rubble of destruction that ensues whenever there is a conflict. We are somehow doomed to try and beat each other to death instead of using our intelligence. And this is ironic in a story where the very starting point is exceptional intelligence and knowledge. Just don't expect it to work out human problems .... That takes raw, violent force. That's my big resistance to the film (and not just this film) as it parades its brilliant technical and creative achievements around the world, infatuating young audiences with its awesome display of tricks.

At the start, Charlize Theron's narration informs us that in Metro City the robots do every task for the citizens, from shopping to cooking to cleaning and even reminding us to ring mum on her birthday. Is that meant to be satirical? These humans have so lost touch they need to be reminded of that by a robot? It's either an indictment or a subconscious lapse.

But I guess I was amusing myself making these notes while the rest of the media preview audience just got on with the entertainment bit.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

ASTRO BOY (PG)
(US, 2009)

VOICES: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Nathan Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Eugene Levy

NARRATION: Charlize Theron

DIRECTOR: David Bowers

SCRIPT: David Bowers, Timothy Harris (comic series by Osamu Tezuka)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pepe Valencia

EDITOR: Robert Anich Cole

MUSIC: John Ottman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jake Rowell (art direction)

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 15, 2009







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