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'STEAMBOY' New anime film dazzles



Published: Thu, April 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are among the voices featured in the movie.

By CHRIS HEWITT

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

I guess it was when the zeppelin showed up that I decided to surrender myself to "Steamboy."

Zeppelins always perk up a movie (see also "A Very Long Engagement" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"). That's especially true of the one here, which announces "Steamboy" as an animated adventure that's interested in everything that would have felt exciting and up-to-the-minute in 1866 England (and a few things that weren't yet dreamed of). The steam engine, dirigibles, motorcar prototypes -- they all pop up in "Steamboy," which has a Jules Verne-like fascination with Victorian ingenuity.

As per usual in animated films from Japan, the backdrops are triumphs of imagination and architecture, but, as in not always the case, "Steamboy" has a dandy story. Youthful inventor Ray is torn between his father and grandfather, an insane and insaner pair whose inventions will either save the world or destroy it. Ray has to figure out which is which while various other forces attempt to destroy most of London (now we know how many bullet holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall, which was in the planning stages at the time).

The setting is almost a character in "Steamboy" -- whenever the lickety-split action flags, the elegance of London keeps you interested -- but the human characters are compelling, too.

An excellent voice cast (Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart) brings conviction and weight to the story, which finds them beginning to grapple with issues we still grapple with today: What happens when zeppelins give way to tanks? What happens when science becomes a threat?




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