“Astro Boy” brings children’s films to dark new territory

The latest adaptation to hit the silver screen finds plenty of emotional depth in a robot-packed plot. (3.5 stars)

Yeah, he can fly. PHOTO COURTESY IMAGI ANIMATION STUDIOS

Yeah, he can fly. PHOTO COURTESY IMAGI ANIMATION STUDIOS

Tony Libera

âÄúAstro BoyâÄù DIRECTED BY: David Bowers STARRING: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage. RATED: PG SHOWING: Area Theaters Hollywood isn’t exactly the city of new ideas; every other film that hits the theaters is either a remake or an adaptation, and the results are reliably mixed. Adaptations geared toward children generally fair worst of all, but the latest entry, âÄúAstro Boy,âÄù – based off of the long-running Japanese manga and television series – comes out as a surprisingly entertaining film for people of all ages. At times, it can slog through the previously charted territory of other works, but it makes with more than a few matchless moments. âÄúAstro BoyâÄù opens in the utopian land of Metro City, an island that floats high above EarthâÄôs wasted ruins and employs robots to perform all sorts of tasks, from the menial to the militaristic. WeâÄôre introduced to a vivacious wunderkind named Toby whose neglectful father, a renowned scientist named Dr. Tenma, is set to show off his latest peacekeeping robot to the President. Toby sneaks his way into the demonstration, where things quickly go awry, and the tone gets elephant-heavy as the robot goes out of control and winds up killing Toby. ThatâÄôs right; the lovable child character dies in the beginning of the movie. If one didnâÄôt know the basic plot of the source material, the opening of this film would come as a huge shock (and itâÄôs unlikely that many children will be familiar with the original). While some critics will pan the film (in its entirety) as being derivative with imitative plot points, theyâÄôd be hard pressed to find another âÄúchildrenâÄôs movieâÄù where a kid is murdered. The aftermath of TobyâÄôs death also provides some unfamiliar kidâÄôs movie terrain, as Dr. Tenma builds a robot that looks exactly like Toby and has all of his sonâÄôs memories (in addition to the best weapons-grade defenses available). The early stages of the film are enrapturing and unique, playing out like a dark psychological exploration rather than a family-friendly romp, as âÄúTobyâÄù comes to understand heâÄôs not actually human and Tenma realizes that building this replica has only made things worse. The story then ambles away from these morbid themes and into the expected world of action and explosion, which is still entertaining, but not nearly as heart wrenching. Contributing to the pathos is one of the better ensemble casts in recent memory, which includes the chops of Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy, Samuel L. Jackson and, in a performance that strays from his usual terribleness, Nicolas Cage. Highmore, who plays Toby/Astro Boy, continues to excel, pulling off the American accent with ease and imbuing his characters with a profound humanity that is both sad and triumphant. The same can be said of nearly all of the actors (Sutherland and Lane excluded; theyâÄôre bad guys) because they all manage to convey dynamic emotion. Even JacksonâÄôs limited role provides a kind of range that offers comedy, sadness and action. The rest wallow in the sorrow that comes from both AstroâÄôs situation and their own, laugh in carefree flashes and eventually the characters rise as the voice actors urge them upwards. In its entirety, âÄúAstro BoyâÄù tackles every issue from environmentalism to the difficulties of youth, but itâÄôs the theme of overcoming odds that saturates the film. ItâÄôs familiar territory, but âÄúAstro BoyâÄù has enough spirit to feel completely human. 3.5/5 Stars