Freddie Highmore and Antonio Banderas star in the animated adventure Justin & The Knights of Valour, along with Charles Dance, Rupert Everett, Barry Humphries, Alfred Molina, Mark Strong, Julie Walters, Olivia Williams and Saoirse Ronan. I’m delighted to share an exclusive clip. The DVD and Blu-Ray will be available July 22, 2014.
The story: Young Justin dreams of following in his grandfather Sir Roland’s footsteps and becoming one of the legendary Knights of Valor. Along his quest, he encounters a slew of quirky characters, including the beautiful Talia and handsome Sir Clorex, who try to teach Justin the skills he needs to become a mighty knight. Justin is put to the test when he is forced to face a power-hungry army of thugs, led by the mighty Sota, but soon learns that true strength comes from the heart.
A show of hands, everyone. If you think it’s a good idea to begin a movie for children by killing off a young boy in an industrial accident as his father looks on, raise your hand. Anyone?
I didn’t think so. And yet, that is how Astro Boy comes to be in this updated version of the Japanese animated series that achieved popularity in the U.S. as a television series in various versions over the years and more recently as a computer game. The title character (voice by an Americanized Freddie Highmore) is a robot re-boot created by brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicolas Cage) to replace his son Toby, who was killed at Dr. Tenma’s lab when he tried to get in to see an experiment. Devastated by the loss, the scientist creates a super-robot programmed with the memory and mind of his dead child. And then he rejects the robot as an inadequate substitute. Even if the rest of the movie were “The Care Bears Meet My Little Pony,” the loss and grief of the first 20 minutes are so totally dissonant that the film cannot recover.
It’s like “Pinocchio” crossed with “Blade Runner” as Astro Boy goes through an existential crisis in discovering that he may have Toby’s memories and emotions, but he also has hands and butt cheeks that turn into artillery. He ends up being treated as a human by robots and a robot by the humans he meets, abandoned children living on the planet that everyone else has left because it is deemed no longer habitable (and yet somehow they are able to order pizza). In the midst of all of the shoot-outs there are some moments that have charm and some images that show some wit, especially an enormous junked robot that Astro brings back to life with a charge from his blue power source (unfortunately carrying the initials of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory). But then the President (voice of Donald Sutherland) wants to use Astro’s technology for evil, and everything comes down to shooting. Any nuance or imagination or point is lost in the battle, and so is any reason to see this film.