Tezuka Osamu’s 1950s manga, and the subsequent ’60s cartoon series that sprang from it, begat modern anime, and while David Bowers’s film about the titular robot doesn’t break similar ground, his whiz-bang take does update the iconic character for the computer-generated age. Blending Eastern and Western animation styles, this origin story hews closely to the J-toon’s Pinocchio-inspired source material: In a futuristic floating city, Dr. Tenma (Cage) responds to his teenage son’s death by building a techno doppelganger named Toby (Highmore) who’s powered by a star fragment. Once this offspring proxy is built, however, Tenma has second thoughts. When the city’s militaristic president (Sutherland) attempts to destroy the mecha-boy, the robot flees and winds up on Earth’s scrap-heap surface.
Once on the polluted terrain, Toby is dubbed Astro, finds a home with ragtag kids and, like many a comic-book outcast, attempts to discover his true destiny. In its best moments, the film exudes an almost Miyazakian love of flight, notably during the hero’s maiden soar through the clouds. What’s ultimately more impressive than the vigorous madcap action and innocuous humor, however, is Bowers’s willingness to address adult themes—alienation, regret, class tensions—with a directness that shows a surprising respect for his target young-adult audience.—Nick Schager
Watch the trailer