It’s the most expensive animated film ever produced outside the United States, with a reported budget of $27 million… which will probably end up being mostly what it’s remembered for, since what those many millions bought is somewhat less notable. Oh, there’s some eye candy to be found in this Victorian-era science-fiction tale, from Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo: Jules Verne would appreciate all the flourishes of wrought iron and Industrial Revolution gingerbread, as well as the gung-ho spirit of inventiveness: Is there anything steam can’t do? But no amount of cool visuals can make up for the thin plot and weak characters. And then there’s the weird disjointedness and unpleasantly retro ideas about women and girls that afflicts much Japanese anime. Why, pray tell, is the adolescent “heroine” named Scarlett O’Hara, and are we really meant to see this spoiled brat who abuses her little dog as adorable? She, at least, is but a side dish in the adventures of Ray Steam (the voice of Anna Paquin: X2: X-Men United), a Manchester lad who just wants to stop his insane inventor dad, Edward (the voice of Alfred Molina: Spider-Man 2), from destroying London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 with his “steam castle,” a sort of evil showcase for the power and promise of steam; Edward’s father, Ray’s grandfather, Lord Steam (the voice of Patrick Stewart: Star Trek: Nemesis), pipes in every once in a while with non sequiturs like “Science exists entirely to make people happy.” But the “annoying philosophies” of the Steam men (as Scarlett terms their high horses) are as simplistic as the nonsymbolism of their surname is bizarre.
rated PG-13 for action violence
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics