by Rick Grant
A Rated PG 94 min
At the heart of this exciting animated feature is speculation about the future of robotics. At some point in the future, the line between cybernetics and human consciousness will be blurred.
In this story, a grieving father Dr. Tenia (Nicolas Cage) creates a replica of his dead son, Astro Boy, that is so advanced, it seems to have human consciousness. In fact, Astro Boy a.k.a. Toby (Freddie Highmore) thinks he is human. However, his creator, Dr. Tenma can?t make the leap of faith to see the boy as his son.
Dr. Tenma?s creation Astro Boy has built in weapons and can fly, yet he can interact with other human kids on the trashed surface of the Earth. Hovering above the Earth is Metro City that is completely controlled by robots that do all the work.
The underlying question the story writer is asking is: What is ?human? when robots achieve human-like qualities. Then, only the fact that one is carbon based and one is silicone based will separate the two species.
Of course, when Toby realizes that he?s not human, he?s conflicted about his origin. Yet, he feels camaraderie with his human peers on Earth and feelings for his father. The key to the story is Dr. Tenma?s orb of positive energy (the God within) versus the orb of negative energy (the dark side).
President Stone (Donald Sutherland) wants to install the negative energy in a giant weapon of mass destruction to fight a war with the anarchists on the Earth?s surface. Dr. Tenma is conflicted but since he can?t seem to see his creation as his son, he is willing to do the President?s biding and give up the positive orb in favor of the negative orb. In other words, it?s military might versus positive motivation.
Thus, Astro Boy is cast in the role of savior of the human and robotic inhabitants of old Earth, which is the place of residence of the greedy robot exploiter, Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) who stages gladiator matches between robots for fun and profit. A small and funny contingent of revolutionary robots try to recruit Astro Boy to their cause. These appliance robots are not too swift. Their hideout is lighted with a neon sign.
Filmmaker, David Bowers, along with comic book writer Osamu Tezuka, created a wildly entertaining animated film with plenty of humor and cool little creatures, like the robotic dog, Trash Can. The story waxes sinister when President Stone wants to destroy Astro Boy and confiscate his positive energy heart. At first D. Tenma goes along with this plan, but later changes his mind. He starts to care about robotic Toby as his surrogate son.
In the course of Astro Boy?s struggle to be free, he discovers his powers and many weapons to fight Stone?s giant robot. Meanwhile, Astro Boy has not forgotten his friends on Earth, and protects them against the forces of evil. Shades of Superman abound in this super-robot boy.
The core premise is Dr. Tenma?s love of his son projected into Astro Boy that holds the story together. Director Bowers telling fo the story is on many levels of consciousness. Kids will love the special effects and the boy hero. But adults can look deeper into the heart of the story about parental love that transcends human to robot consciousness.
After all the battles, Astro Boy becomes the first robot to achieve human consciousness and feel love for his father. The story suggests that robots will become so sophisticated, that they will crossover into human-like beings with emotions. It could happen, which gives this story believability. In contrast, robots could one day feel superior to humans and decide to kill us all, like in the Terminator films.