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