DVD Release Date:  March 16, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  October 23, 2009
Rating:  PG (for some action and peril and brief mild language)
Genre:  Kids/Family, Animation, Comedy
Run Time:  94 min.
Director:  David Bowers
Voices by:  Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlize Theron, Bill Nighy, Freddie Highmore, Donald Sutherland, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane, Matt Lucas

After suffering through two-and-a-half hours of overblown robots-in-disguise hijinks in the rather emotionless Transformers sequel this past summer, I can't say that I was exactly chomping at the bit to see yet another movie with a robotic protagonist.

But as I started reading up on Astro Boy, the character's backstory was actually pretty intriguing. Apparently, the whole mystique of Astro Boy, a story that began in cartoon form on Japanese television from 1963 to 1966, managed to escape my pop culture radar somehow. Turns out, he first appeared in Japanese manga in 1951, but yet even 58 years later, his story still feels relevant today.

In fact, for diehard fans of Japanese anime, (a few rather outspoken enthusiasts were in the crowd during my particular screening), Astro Boy's arrival on the big screen was anticipated with equal measures of excitement and trepidation, sort of like a Trekkie's response to J.J. AbramsStar Trek reboot this past summer.

Before I could beat myself up too much for not exactly being "in the know," I learned from a fellow audience member that the whole Astro Boy phenomenon was never as big in America as it was in Japan (or even other international locales) anyway, which made me feel better.

Despite the upgrade in aesthetics from the far kitschier approach used in the cartoons, the Astro Boy faithful seemed pretty happy with the final result. Many even vowed to see it again. And as someone outside the fanboy contingency, I'm happy to report that there's plenty for the unacquainted to enjoy, too.

While still a notch down from Pixar standards (and let's face it, those are pretty high standards to compete with anyway), Astro Boy is still lovingly rendered and far more engaging than anything in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. See, the screenwriters actually bothered with writing a compelling story to accompany the  thrilling action sequences, something that director Michael Bay and Co. might note when crafting the upcoming third installment.

Providing a sufficient backstory for Astro Boy definitely helps matters, too.  Raised by a renowned robotic scientist Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicolas Cage) in Metro City, a futuristic utopia of sorts where robots take care of everything that humans don't have time for (like cleaning, cooking, etc.), Astro Boy starts off as just a regular 13-year-old named Toby (Freddie Highmore). Curious, a little bored in school and as gifted in science as his dad, he takes any opportunity possible to be close to him, even when he's supposed to stay at home.    

Coincidentally, that little detail ends up playing a big part in what happens next when Toby decides he has to see the scientific breakthrough his dad is about to make. When President Stone (Donald Sutherland) decides to alter the experiment a little for his own professional gain, Toby gets caught in the crosshairs and dies unexpectedly, much to the chagrin of Dr. Tenma, who knows he hasn't always been the best father.