Japanese Minihero Lost In Translation

    Astro Boy
    Starring Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland & Kristin Bell
    Directed by David Bowers
    Rated PG
    01:30
    2 stars

    Astro Boy — the spiky-haired Japanese superhero known for defending the innocent with the help of his rocket-launcher legs — has received a lethal injection of westernization and political undertones.

    In an all-American rendition of the manga saga, director David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) alters the icon’s story to satisfy the youth of a different culture, cutting it to pieces and gluing it back together with plots, characters and themes that pull from classics like “The Jetsons,” “Oliver Twist” and “Pinocchio”.

    The hero is placed within a futuristic utopian island in the sky called Metro City. Imagine a place where robots compose the blue-collar workforce and, as a result, are treated with the utmost contempt.

    But Metro City did not always exist. When the Earth below the floating city — now known as “the surface” — was destroyed by pollution and mountains of garbage (“WALL-E,” anyone?), a part of the planet was lifted into the sky.

    After the death of his son, a Metro City scientist (unfortunately voiced by Nicolas Cage) creates a robo-child to fill the void. When he is unable to pacify his grieving father, Astro Boy embarks on a search for acceptance that leads him into battle with an alien race for the sake of saving the island he calls home.

    Of course, every hero has his villain. During Astro Boy’s journey to self-discovery — which includes a brief furlough on “the surface” with a group of children who call themselves the Robot Revolutionary Front (voiced by Kristen Bell and Nathan Lane), the militant president of Metro City (Donald Sutherland) hunts him down. Cue evil cackle.

    Simple enough, right? But one of the film’s major pitfalls is the fact that Astro Boy is stupidly perfect. How many children can identify with a little cherub whose maturity rivals that of a 40-year-old?

    Forced political undertones continue driving the film downward. Hardly the naive matinee it appears to be, “Astro Boy” instructs an elementary audience that the future of the world could be destroyed by apathy. There’s even an allegorical presidential race between a military dictator and a tree-hugger who believes that all use of physical force is a ploy to destroy the world.

    Despite its shortcomings (especially when compared to the original), “Astro Boy” remains somewhat enjoyable for a general audience. Though often imitative of its genre and at times overly intellectual for its target kiddies, it’s well-tucked tale of the eternal battle between good and evil, and drives its heart-warming message home: Despite adversity, a heart of gold — especially one armed with rocket legs — can overcome any villainous obstacle.

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