The animated "Astro Boy" is a shiny hodgepodge of "Pinocchio," "WALL-E," "Oliver Twist," "Gladiator" and "Superman," with some obvious visual touches taken from "The Iron Giant." As its own entity, though, it's pretty forgettable.
Director David Bowers ("Flushed Away") gets some help from a lively voice cast that includes Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy and Nathan Lane, and the Art Deco look has a classic appeal. But it almost feels like there are too many movies competing simultaneously in what is essentially a pretty standard tale of good versus evil.
The jokes aren't all that funny and the father-son relationship between Astro Boy (Highmore) and brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma (a typically lethargic Nicolas Cage) isn't all that moving.
Based on the Japanese comic book from Osamu Tezuka that began in 1951 — and influenced the anime genre as we know it today —"Astro Boy" traces the origin of a young superhero. He began life as a regular kid named Toby, but after he dies in a freak lab accident, his father brings him back to life as a robot containing Toby's personality, memories and Bob's Big Boy looks.
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Once Dr. Tenma realizes — duh — that this eager-to-please robot version of his child is nonetheless inferior and sends him away, Toby flees the floating, gleaming Metro City and lands back on the now-trashed Earth below, where he becomes known as Astro Boy.
Back in Metro City, President Stone (Donald Sutherland) is after him for his Blue Core: a powerful crystalline nugget that Dr. Tenma implanted in his chest. You see, there's a Blue Core and a Red Core. The blue one provides a peaceful, benevolent strength, while the red one turns you into a ferocious killing machine.
The president wants to control them both for his ironically named "Peacekeeper," a burly device intended to dominate Earth.
And so the obvious inevitably arrives: Astro Boy must return to his home to fight the ultimate fight and face his ultimate destiny. He also might run into his dad again. You never know.