A proud civilian of Mero City, Toby (voiced by a sprightly Freddie Highmore) is an overconfident, brainy child who often revels in the latest robotic innovation by his elusive father, the renowned scientist Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage). After mischievously hiding in the lab during one of Tenma’s demonstrations, Toby is trapped behind the protective glass after a sinister President Stone (Donald Sutherland) installs a recently discovered, highly powerful energy source—the clearly temperamental Red Core—into Tenma’s robot, culminating in Toby’s untimely death. Wrecked, Tenma feverishly constructs a replacement android son using the all-powerful, more stable Blue Core, but later cruelly rejects Toby for his mechanical inadequacies. Now known as Astro Boy, the dejected robot discovers his incredible abilities and gadgets, but soon crashes on Earth when fleeing from the power-hungry president, who is after the Blue Core.
With his porcelain face and saucer-like eyes, the Manga character Astro Boy shares glaring similarities to both WALL-E and David from A.I., both lonely, abandoned robots discovering their facility and position in the world; one particularly poignant moment occurs when Astro Boy gets carted off to compete in a robot death-match, and his Earth friend Cora (Kristen Bell) turns on him when she finds out he isn’t human. This brutal scene of humans applauding the utter destruction of robots for mere enjoyment seems familiar but still proves compelling, and even humorous, as Astro Boy pummels the other robots with a giddy enthusiasm.
Metro City, the birthplace of Astro Boy and a fitting metaphor for man’s wastefulness, is a floating island of technological prosperity and efficiency, sitting high in the sky, dumping discarded, damaged robots onto a polluted Earth’s surface, which is also inhabited by countless orphaned and misplaced humans. Both a newbie to the character and comic book, I cannot compare Bowers’s cinematic interpretation to the original’s story arc, but as it stands, the film is a dazzling rollercoaster of a ride, despite a major plot misstep in the end, when a series of climatic events are wrapped up in a convenient bow. However, Astro Boy succeeds at creating a complex world filled with second-class robots and sometimes careless, greedy humans, providing food for thought and animated thrills for adults and kids alike.