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dir David Bowers
prd Maryann Garger
scr Timothy Harris, David Bowers
voices Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Matt Lucas, Eugene Levy, Madeline Carroll, Sterling Beaumon, Charlize Theron, Samuel L Jackson
release Jpn 10.Oct.09, US 23.Oct.09, UK 29.Jan.10
09/Japan Imagi 1h34
I got no strings: Astro under attack
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Hong Kong-based animators give this Japanese manga a Hollywood spin using American voices and 3D-style animation to an eclectic, eccentric premise that wouldn't be out of place in a Studio Ghibli movie (see Spirited Away).
In the distant future, Metro City has broken away from the rubbish-strewn earth to float above it. Robots help in every part of life there, thanks to the inventive Dr Tenma (voiced by Cage), whose son Toby (Highmore) is also a science whiz. After Toby dies in an accident, Tenma rebuilds him as a robot with some extra features. The power-hungry General Stone (Sutherland) wants to get his hands on Toby's superpowers, but Toby escapes to the surface, where he's renamed Astro and must figure out his own destiny.
There are heavy echoes in here from the likes of Pinocchio, The Iron Giant, I Robot and Wall-E. But these things add resonance, offering intriguing subtext and knowing observations along with the wacky slapstick. Most of the side characters feel badly underwritten, although the gifted cast makes the most of them. Lane is the scene-stealer, investing his robot-collecting showman with plenty of vocal spark despite a simplistic personality.
Meanwhile, the central characters all feel rather bland, voiced without much inflection in typical anime style. While the film is visually packed with clever details, it also looks soft and plasticky, without any texture in close-up. And the plot is extremely linear, lacking any subtlety. This leaves the film feeling rather unsophisticated, which won't bother younger viewers but pales in comparison to other recent animated films that aspire to something either more richly dramatic or more inventively comical.
It perhaps also won't help that the central villain is a warmongering thug who's clearly a thinly veiled swipe at Bush-Cheney. (Although this gives him one of the best lines when he protests, "I need my robot to be a fighter not a lover!") Fortunately, the film redeems itself with a terrific final act that pits the tiny Astro against a hugely ferocious mega-monster. This scene deploys all the inventive skills of both the screenwriters and the animators, and makes us wish they'd cut loose a little earlier.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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