In an origin story that’s like Pinocchio meets Frankenstein, Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicolas Cage), a robotics professor, loses his son, Toby, in a freak energy accident and builds a new kid from scratch: a robot boy with rocket flames that shoot out of his feet and hair molded into a Dennis the Menace cowlick. Astro, as he comes to be known, doesn’t just look like Toby; he has the exact same personality (they’re both voiced by Freddie Highmore). You could chalk this up to the miracle ? of robotics — or, perhaps, to the thinness of characterization that marks this jet-propelled update of the Japanese cartoon series, which in 1963 was an early milestone of anime.
If you’re pining for the richness of a Pixar film, or even for the crackerjack comedy of, say, Kung Fu Panda, look elsewhere. Yet the new Astro Boy is a marvelously designed piece of cartoon kinetics, with the pleasing soft colors and rounded-metal tactility of an atomic- age daydream. Astro gets kicked off Metro City, a spaceship that hovers above Earth, and he lands in a scrap heap of robots and meets some wild-child friends. There’s a little too much lost-boys-and-girls mopiness, but when Astro becomes a robot gladiator, the movie turns happy demolition derby, and the virtuoso collisions just keep on coming. B