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Hollywood Product: Astro Boy

Longtime anime icon makes American big-screen debut

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GENRE: CGI sci-fi adventure

THE PITCH: When Dr. Tenma’s (Nicolas Cage) son Tobio (Freddie Highmore) meets an unfortunate end, the grief-stricken scientist creates a robotic boy in his son’s image powered by an experimental power source — blue-core energy. Tobio soon learns he’ll never replace his flesh-and-blood predecessor and flees when facing deactivation from his father and war-mongering General Stone (Donald Sutherland). His escape takes the young robot on an action-packed journey where his destiny is ultimately revealed.

MONEY SHOTS: Newly created Tobio accidentally learns he has the ability to fly when he falls out of a window. After he quickly masters his jet-propelled legs, Tobio embarks on an acrobatic flight around and above Metro City in a scene reminiscent of the space ballet between Wall-E and Eva in Pixar’s Wall-E.

BEST LINE: “No hippie is going to sit in my Oval Office eating mung beans and smelling like patchouli,” barks Stone after realizing he could lose the election if he doesn’t gain the support — by force, if necessary — of Metro City's populace.

WORST LINE: Tenma’s neurotic robot valet, Orrin (Eugene Levy), says, “I am so freaked” when he tries to come to grips with the return of his young charge Tobio, who shows up at the breakfast table unaware of his demise or his new mechanical body.

FANBOY HIGHLIGHTS: Although most may not be familiar with any of the three animated versions of the Astro Boy series, true fans will be happy to see some faces and robots from the various incarnations. Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy) as Tenma’s Ministry of Science counterpart is a given, but look out for other faces such as Inspector Gumshoe and Mr. Mustache as nonspeaking crowd characters.

IS THIS ASTRO OR PINOCCHIO? Hmm … hard to tell. There are several similarities that pull the story away from its manga origins and align it more closely with the classic puppet fairy tale. For one, the blue-core energy that brings Astro to life is a little too close to the Blue Fairy who animated Geppetto’s wooden boy. On his quest, Astro meets a group of orphans and is taken in by Ham Egg (Nathan Lane), a scientist who at first glace appears to have noble intentions. This scenario almost mirrors Pinocchio’s quest where he meets Honest John and Gideon, who take him to join Stromboli’s puppet show. There’s more Pinnochio references throughout the film, but telling them would reveal too much of the story’s plot.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s a lot to like about this Americanized reimagining of the beloved Japanese icon's origin. Director David Bower balances an action-packed adventure story with sentimental crescendos and boyish humor to make this film a smart choice for family viewing.

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