AMONG MANGA and anime nerds, "Astro Boy" is a big name—like, "Mickey Mouse" big. As Roland Kelts wrote in Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US, Astro Boy wasn't only "Japan's first major manga," but was created by Osamu Tezuka, "the widely acknowledged father/inventor of what has become anime style." In the States, though, Astro Boy is hardly an icon: Here, he's dwarfed by more than a few other manga/anime characters, like Speed Racer—and if Speed Racer's pathetic 2008 box office haul is any indication, even Speed isn't taking up too much American pop cultural real estate. Regardless, now Astro Boy has his own big-budget animated film, full of the requisite shiny CG and accompanied by the familiar glut of B-list celebrity voices.
For what it is—a non-Pixar animated film—Astro Boy isn't bad, but it's nothing spectacular, either. Using some goofy pseudo-science (why hello, glowing blue orb of "pure positive energy"!), the mopey Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage, somehow overacting even when he's not seen) builds the robot boy Astro to replace his dead kid. But things don't quite work out; leaving the idyllic Astro City, Astro sets out to find his destiny and make friends, be they of the people kind (like the Predictably Sassy Female Love Interest™, voiced by Kristen Bell) or the mechanical kind (like Trashcan, a pug-like robot dog of which I really want one of my own). There's also something or other about fighting off the eeevil, Dr. Strangelove-style General Stone (Donald Sutherland).
Astro Boy is fast paced, fairly clever, and goodhearted; it's hard to find much fault in it, though it's equally difficult to summon much enthusiasm. The end result feels like what'd happen if Isaac Asimov spent a few minutes riffing on Pinocchio—something I'm guessing will seem sacrilegious to old-school Astro Boy fans, but should prove entertaining enough to most varieties of the American rugrat.