By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Apart from combat sequences and episodes of menace that might disturb the very youngest viewers, the charming animated adventure “Astro Boy” (Summit) makes for virtually unobjectionable family entertainment.
With its exemplary titular hero (voice of Freddie Highmore) embodying both innocence and altruism, as he struggles to discover his place in the world, director and co-writer (with Timothy Hyde Harris) David Bowers’ adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s internationally popular comic book series — first published in 1951 and previously the inspiration for three television cartoon series — is by turns amusing, exciting and poignant.
As explained in the opening scenes, narrated by Charlize Theron, this chronicle of Astro Boy’s origins is set in futuristic Metro City, a pristine section of the earth that was launched into the atmosphere as the rest of the planet became overrun with debris, and that now hovers in splendor over the grim global junkyard below. Metro City’s economy is based on the toil of an underclass of mechanical servants who are treated with disdain by their human masters.
Though a key player in developing robotic technology, government scientist Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicolas Cage) shares the widespread prejudice against these mechanized drudges. But his gentle son, Toby (also voiced by Highmore), shows greater sensitivity.
Brilliant and inquisitive, but neglected by his work-obsessed dad, Toby sneaks into Tenma’s lab to witness the demonstration of his latest project, an armaments advance of particular interest to Metro City’s militaristic leader, President Stone (voice of Donald Sutherland). In a tragic mishap, the boy is killed.
Heartbroken, Tenma uses Toby’s DNA to create an identical-looking robot replica programmed with the lad’s memories and personality traits, but also equipped with super powers. Finding the new Toby a painful reminder of the original rather than a replacement, Tenma swiftly rejects him, however, crushing the hybrid boy’s inherited feelings of love and filial devotion.
Abandoned to his fate, the misfit youth sets off on a series of adventures that see him adopted by a band of good-hearted ragamuffins, who give him his heroic Space Age moniker, manipulated by the waifs’ Fagin-like adult mentor, Hamegg (voice of Nathan Lane), and relentlessly pursued by Stone, who’s intent on using Astro Boy’s life-giving energy source for weaponry.
Besides the confrontations and perilous situations cited above, parents may also be concerned by one scene that plays with punning humor on the custom of saying grace and by another where an endangered robot displays a warning to the effect that he has just had an emergency disposal of fluid.
But likely to have a far greater impact on their young companions are the sustained themes of overcoming discrimination and indifference to the feelings of others, of resisting violence except when necessitated by self-defense and of triumph through loyal, self-sacrificing love.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The film contains considerable stylized violence, some menace and brief instances of vaguely irreverent and mildly scatological humor. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.