With the current releases of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Pixar’s Toy Story 3-D double feature you could assume that a major studio release of yet another CG-animated film would be a bad idea. If the quality could match either of those two releases one would be wrong. That Summit Entertainment has unleashed such a gross misappropriation of expectations would be an understatement.
David Bowers hails from the United Kingdom and in his first feature outing Flushed Away, made for Aardman Features and distributed domestically via Dreamworks, he managed to bring a British sensibility to a big studio production. As co-writer of that film and his newest offering Astro Boy, you can sense the tiniest inkling of his own brand of humor. A few off-color jokes and random acts of complete silliness are about all he manages to muster in what winds up being the biggest train wreck of a children’s script seen in years.
Having also worked on some excellent children’s animated films back in the day you would think Bowers could manage something on par with at least 20th Century Fox’s own Blue Sky which brought us the Ice Age series and Robots. Any of those are easier to sit through than Astro Boy. You also expect a lot more from a film when it is screened at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but I digress.
Bowers has worked on some high profile projects such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story, along with Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. But apparently working alongside the likes of Robert Zemekis, Steven Spielberg, Simon Wells, and Nick Park has done nothing for his own work. Maybe Flushed Away was a complete fluke.
In Astro Boy, based on an original comic by Osamu Tezuka, we meet the young and supposedly brilliant Toby (voiced by Freddie Highmore). He is the son of Dr. Tenma (voiced by the insanely bored-sounding Nicolas Cage) who dies in a tragic accident while Dr. Tenma is testing out a new defense weapon for General Stone (voiced by Donald Sutherland). While Dr. Tenma doesn’t seem exactly all too upset over the death of his own son he does find time to clone him as a robot with superpowers now named Astro Boy.
All of this happens on the hovering-above-Earth Metro City. The floating city is designed to be a new metropolis as their garbage, consisting mostly of destroyed robots, is dumped down to the real Earth below. When Dr. Tenma decides that Astro Boy is ultimately not his son and tries to banish him to the ground below, Astro Boy discovers his superpowers but not before he still gets grounded to the wastelands.
Here he meets a gang of misfits lead by Cora (voiced by Kristen Bell) who has run away from home but still yearns to reach out and call her parents. Cora and her friends live with Ham Egg (voiced by Nathan Lane) who likes to repair robots only to have them be part of his own “Robot Wars” where they proceed to fight and destroy each other for the sake of entertainment.
When Ham Egg decides to put Astro Boy himself into the “Robot Wars” everyone finds that maybe robots are able to mimic human emotion and aren’t meant for the scrapheap after all. When the evil plot is discovered that General Stone wants to start a war between humans and robots so that he himself can save the day and win an election, Astro Boy must return to the surface to defend the people and defeat General Stone.
If the script sounds like a huge hodgepodge of far better movies it’s because it really is. Everything from Spider-Man and Wall-E to The Incredibles and Pinocchio are stolen from at a moment's notice. Most kids might not care but it shows a complete disregard for originality and undermines children’s intelligence.
Most of these issues are possibly to blame on director Bowers' co-writer Timothy Harris. He has brought upon us the likes of some lackluster scripts. While some were better than others (Trading Places, Brewster’s Millions, and even Kindergarten Cop), he has also “blessed” us with the likes of Twins, My Stepmother is an Alien, Pure Luck, and Space Jam. Oh sure, some of the worst offenders here were crowd pleasers, but what does that say about the general movie-going public? There are a few jokes that really do work but those are very early in the film as everything begins to fall apart minute by minute.
The animation isn’t a complete bust; however, I would like to note that this is the first digitally projected screening I have ever attended that was out of focus for the entire duration of the film. Hopefully it is at least crystal clear for regular showings so that the film only puts a strain on your brain and not your eyes as well. There are far worse children’s films released every year at a continuing rate so if you’re truly interested in seeing how they’ve managed to blunder through another comic book adaptation, look no further than the most current abomination.
Photo courtesy Summit Entertainment