It may be one of the most expensive anime features ever, but there isn't a wealth of entertainment on offer in Steamboy. Made by the creator of the seminal Akira, it takes place in 1860s Manchester, where young inventor Ray (voiced by Anna Paquin) is thrust into a war of wills between his father (Alfred Molina) and grandfather (Patrick Stewart) over a revolutionary gizmo called the steam ball. There are moments of sheer spectacle, but as long-gestating animated fantasies set in the north of England go, it's not a patch on the Wallace & Gromit movie.
For starters, it's devoid of humour - unless you count the unintentional hilarity of Paquin's preposterous accent, which roams the length and breadth of the British Isles. Molina and Stewart show how it should be done, but they can't compensate for the lack of engaging characters. Ray is a cross little moppet whom it's hard to root for, while dad and grandpa are blowhards whose endless rants about technology are just a load of, well, hot air. And then there's spoilt brat Scarlett (Kari Wahlgren), head of an organisation that wants to use the steam ball to create weapons of war.
"A PROLONGED ORGY OF CHAOS"
After much tiresome talk and tearing around, the film finally comes together with the rise - and sensational fall - of a hissing, clanking, life-endangering steam castle in central London. It's a prolonged orgy of chaos that rivals the astonishing climax of Akira. Trouble is, built on such shaky dramatic foundations, it's no more involving than a giant fireworks display.