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Capone gives ASTRO BOY a passing grade mainly because of the butt guns!!!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Appreciation levels of today's animated offerings seem to be squarely of a collective mindset that thinks that only films like UP and CORALINE are worth your time attention because they appeal to adults almost more than they do children, and that movies like MONSTERS VS. ALIENS or CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS or the ICE AGE movies are strictly for the unsophisticated kids audience. What's interesting about ASTRO BOY, the first feature film to spotlight the wildly popular Japanese comic book and animated series, is that I think it straddles the line between light and dark, adult and kids fare rather nicely, and it does so with a smashing visual style that isn't quite equaled by its overly simplistic plot. In and amongst the message of friendship and treating everyone equally and the destruction of the class system (wha?!) are some subversive wonders that I got a real kick out of. For example, the movie opens with a child dying! Yay! Enjoy the hell out of that, you 7-year-old. Also, the primary villain is the President of the United States (voiced by Donald Sutherland). OK, granted he's the old-school, ancient white guy kind of president, but he's the president, and he's trying to kill a little kid for much of the film. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Astro ASTRO BOY the movie attempts something the other versions of the Japanese character never did--to tell an origin story. Nicolas Cage voices Dr. Tenma, a robotics expert whose life is nearly ruined when his son is accidentally killed. He comes up with the idea of creating the most human-like robot ever, a version of his son named Astro (voiced by Freddie Highmore) that is almost immediately banished from Tenma's life when he realizes he's made a terrible mistake. The action takes place in a version of the future where a functional piece of floating property known as Metro City exists in the clouds above the waste of a planet below, littered by millions of worn out or other wise dysfunctional robots. Astro meets some new friends on the surface, all of whom think he's human. His new friends include Cora (Kristen Bell), a punky little bundle of energy, who eventually grows to trust Astro and allows him to join their gang of youngsters, overseen Oliver Twist-style by Hamegg (Nathan Lane). Ham happens to run gladiator-style robot wars, which Astro is slightly appalled by, since the battles are to the death. Meanwhile, the President is looking for ways to weaponize Tenma's Astro prototype. The President dons some battle armor (known as the Peacekeeper) and heads out looking for Astro, somehow absorbing all other robots in the process and becoming an ever-growing robot in the process. Not surprisingly, Astro's two worlds eventually do collide, and the inequity between the cloud dwellers and surface dwellers can no longer be avoided. Highmore (best known as Charlie in Tim Burton's CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) does a decent job voicing Astro and filling him with a sense of childish wonder, especially when he discovers how many kick-ass weapons his body has tucked away for high-pressure situations. I loved pretty much every scene involving the President; he's just so hilariously evil that you kind of wonder how this guy got the job. And Bell is cute even in animated form. I wasn't blown away by any aspect of ASTRO BOY, but it is a fun, beautifully rendered work that I really wish has been in 3-D. The way the action sequences are directed, it almost felt like it was made to be in 3-D, but even in 2-D I was pretty captivated by the details in this world. Also keep an ear out for some fine voice work by the likes of the incomparable Bill Nighy, Eugene Levy as a servant robot, Charlize Theron, and Samuel L. Jackson as a big-ass robot. The film's plot is fairly simplistic, and this may be a case of getting through the origin story in the hopes that if another ASTRO BOY movie gets made, it will benefit from using a better story. But what's here is better than average, and if you don't like to think too hard during your animated movies, then this is your guy this weekend. Call this is a mixed review leaning in favor of recommending it. I had fun watching the pretty colors, but forgot most of what I saw within hours of it ending.
-- Capone capone@aintitcoolmail.com Follow Me On Twitter



Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:13 p.m. CST

    I think I accidentally rented a movie called "Butt Guns"

    by JuanSanchez

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:13 p.m. CST

    I read

    by Sailor Rip

    the review

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:13 p.m. CST

    It's got a tough boxoffice road this weekend...

    by PennsyDeux

    against Saw I (ignore the VI, since they've copied the same basic premise from the second one on). I'll see it tomorrow, and am looking forward to add to the 48% it's received on RT.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:14 p.m. CST

    Accidetally?

    by Sailor Rip

    When I was in Tiajauna I got drunk and accidentally "starred" in a movie called Butt Guns. I'm pretty famous down there now

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Accidents happen, man. Boy do they ever happen.

    by JuanSanchez

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:22 p.m. CST

    Maybe it's just me..

    by Big_Daddy_Nero

    ..but this particular comic has always creeped me out. A little boy running around in his underwear. It's always just had a kind of 'ick factor' because of that which has relegated this thing to the realm of back rooms and middle aged guys buying Japanese comics in brown wrappers and doing... things... later on in the privacy of their homes. Hopefully none of that is true, but geez, it's a little boy running around in his underwear. I mean, why? He couldn't wear clothes? Ew.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:26 p.m. CST

    Family films that only target BOYS

    by knowthyself

    Always fail at the box office. If you can't reel in the little girls consider yourself a bomb from the get go.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:28 p.m. CST

    underwear?

    by Bouncy X

    well to be fair, he isnt wearing any actual underwear unless they changed that for this movie. but the 80s animated show didnt have any. the "underwear" were just part of his body painted black. looks to be the same for this movie based on what i've seen. anyway it looks pretty cool, not sure i'll go to the theater but its a definate rent. if she isnt in this one, wonder if they'll introduce Astro's robot sister in the sequel.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:43 p.m. CST

    Hopefully this does well for 2 reason...

    by HollywoodHellraiser

    1)Kids and adultd should be tiring of Pixar and Dreamwork same flank of animation and subplots.<p>2)The studio behind Astroboy is also making Gatchaman and thats the movie I want to see get animated!

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 12:46 p.m. CST

    Butt Guns? Were like second cousins cuz I starred in

    by StarchildAD

    Astro Balls!

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 1:02 p.m. CST

    Are there teenage vampires in it?

    by stooopider

    They're underused in cinemas

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 1:40 p.m. CST

    If it is pro-communism...

    by moorE12

    is Massa going to hate it?

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 1:50 p.m. CST

    It looks terrible

    by lockesbrokenleg

    Will do about as well as Whip It.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 2:33 p.m. CST

    Haven't seen it yet, but...

    by NippleEffect

    I kinda wish they'd gone with classic animation<p> A full bore retro experience

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 2:54 p.m. CST

    Jill St. John was smokin' hot in Diamonds Are Forever

    by JuanSanchez

    I wish she starred in Butt Guns - back then, of course - not now.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 2:58 p.m. CST

    where is the black and white

    by blkfuturistic

    this movie should have been retro for the people who real know the kid.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 3:05 p.m. CST

    "people who real know the kid" is too small a group

    by JuanSanchez

    to make money.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 4:24 p.m. CST

    Looks FUN

    by KubrickFan69

    I'm gonna catch it.. I liked the first trailer for it.. and I never heard of the character till now.. but it's getting more positive reviews than I first thought so thats interesting as well as the fact that Ebert dug it. I'll be checking this out tomorrow.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 5:50 p.m. CST

    "primary villain is the President of the United States"

    by Immortal_Fish

    I am so sick and fucking tired of Hollywood's bullshit.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 7:40 p.m. CST

    president as the villain is cool

    by Bouncy X

    doubt he'll be as evil as obama though.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 10:30 p.m. CST

    Bouncy X, I agree

    by Immortal_Fish

    President I. Rock O'Beyme has certainly surrounded himself with plenty enough characters from Mos Eisely to give me major pause. Major, major pause.<P>Despite that, all the reasons why I thought Joe Wilson was wrong to defame the office of the presidency are still the same reasons why I think it wrong for Hollywood to ply their bullshit, regardless of whatever Mao Tse Tung loving radical employer holds residence.

  • Oct. 23, 2009, 11:51 p.m. CST

    The animation style for this looks bland as hell

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    No interesting facial expressions whatsoever, like it's 1993-era Reboot or something.

  • Oct. 24, 2009, 2:12 a.m. CST

    I read the Anime News Network review

    by The_Crimson_King

    it sounds like a fun rental, but not something necessarily worth seeing in theaters, it's still cool to see Osamu Tezuka get some exposure in America though, maybe this will turn kids on to the manga?

  • Oct. 24, 2009, 2:14 a.m. CST

    also, I remember reading in issue of Official Playstation Magazi

    by The_Crimson_King

    YEARS ago that they were making a LIVE ACTION Astro Boy and it was to be directed by none other than Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Dexter's Laboratory) wonder what ever happened to that?

  • Oct. 24, 2009, 2:14 a.m. CST

    ne

    by The_Crimson_King