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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this animated robot superhero adventure based on the 1960s anime series Astro Boy is age-appropriate for elementary-schoolers. It has fairly sophisticated themes (grief, loss, and war), as well as plenty of cartoon action violence -- including the death of a child, the destruction of several robots, explosions, and robots armed with heavy artillery. But language is limited to mild insults like "idiot," and there's no product placement to worry about. A war-obsessed military man is presented as a humorously negative character; on the opposite end of the political spectrum is a trio of revolutionary robots who call each other "comrade" and have a poster of Lenin in their meeting place.
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What's the story?
ASTRO BOY chronicles the adventures of a weaponized robot (voiced by Freddie Highmore) created by grieving scientist Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) in the exact likeness of his deceased son, Toby. The distraught scientist, whose son died during a dangerous demonstration for Metro City's war-mongering General Stone (Donald Sutherland), allows Astro Boy to believe that he's really Toby ... until the boy accidentally falls out of a window and realizes he can fly. Escaping from a now-remorseful Dr. Tenma before he can shut him down, Astro Boy lands in the "garbage heap" below Metro City that is the over-polluted Earth. He runs into a band of orphans led by Cora (Kristen Bell) and Sludge (Moises Arias), who live with Ham Egg (Nathan Lane), a seemingly kind pseudo-adoptive father who runs a Coliseum-like show where robots battle to the death. When Astro Boy is outed as a robot, he must fight for his life again -- and summon the courage to save everyone from General Stone's nefarious plans to start a bloody war.
Is it any good?
Director David Bowers (Flushed Away) isn't revolutionary in his approach to animation, but he has a keen eye for action sequences. He also cleverly captures the comedy and tragedy of a robot who thinks he's a boy who realizes he's a superhero. Highmore has the perfectly sweet, emotive voice to play Astro Boy, and Cage sounds appropriately haunted as Dr. Tenma, who really just wants his son back. The scene-stealers are Sutherland and Lane, both of whom provide the movie's laughs by playing their characters as amusing and incredibly twisted egomaniacs.
Equal parts AI, Pinocchio, and WALL-E, Astro Boystrongly recalls each with its themes of a robot clone made for agrieving parent, an artificial boy wanting to become real, and thescary prospect of a future in which Earth becomes nearly uninhabitable andpeople must live somewhere else completely dependent on technology.But kids will be mostly unaware of these heavier themes,except for those who understand the obvious allusion to Pinocchio. Older viewers will get a kick out of the deceitful, hawkish General Stone, whose campaign slogans ("It's Not Time for Change") and outright desire for war are reminiscent of George C. Scott's General Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove. Astro Boy may not launch a thousand sequels, but its humor and boy-friendly superhero premise make for an entertaining diversion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Astro Boy compares to other superheroes. He's created as a robot with special powers, rather than born or accidentally transformed. How does Astro Boy accept (as Spider-Man says) that with great power comes great responsibility?
Do you think the movie's more mature themes will resonate with kids? What other movies touch on issues related to technology, pollution, war, and the like? Is this appropriate material for a kids' movie?
How is Toby's death handled? Many children's movies feature the death of a parent, but it's rare for the death of a child to be included. Kids: Would you have preferred for Toby to be transformed into Astro Boy rather than die?
- In theaters: October 23, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 16, 2010
- Cast: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson
- Director: David Bowers
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Superheroes, Adventures, Robots
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some action and peril, and brief mild language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.