Steamboy | Chicago Reader


Visually commanding, conceptually beguiling, but dramatically inert, this ambitious Japanese anime by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) unfolds in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851, which celebrated the advances of the industrial revolution. A crusty old inventor (voiced by Patrick Stewart) bequeaths his young grandson (Anna Paquin) a fantastic ball that unleashes the power of compressed steam, and soon the boy is fleeing dark powers that covet the new resource—among them a foundation fronted by his cynical father (Alfred Molina). The Victorian backgrounds are carefully researched and fanatically detailed, though the characters are more plainly rendered in conventional cel animation. Unfortunately that duality carries over into the story, its fascinating alternate history overlaid with a wheezy paternal drama and a lot of rhetorical steam about the morality of science. This dubbed version runs 106 minutes; the subtitled Japanese release clocks in at two hours. PG-13.

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