Original Author: Osamu Tezuka
Rating: PG (Violence)
Release Date: October 2009
Synopsis: “Set in futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is about a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist named Dr. Tenma. Powered by positive “blue” energy, Astro Boy is endowed with super strength, x-ray vision, unbelievable speed and the ability to fly. Ultimately learning his friends and family are in danger, Astro Boy marshals his awesome super powers and returns to Metro City in a valiant effort to save everything he cares about and to understand what it means to be a hero.”
Based on Osamu Tezuka’s popular Astro Boy series, this movie had a lot of weight on its shoulders – attempting, and in several ways succeeding, to cater to not only fans of the original but also to a generation of viewers for whom Astro Boy comes along as a just another computer-built children’s film.
Departing a bit from the original story, IMAGI’s Astro Boy begins with introducing viewers to Dr. Tenma, a robotic genius, and his son, Tobi, who live in Metro City, a futuristic world raised high above the Earth after pollution spoiled the planet. During a demonstration at work, an incident occurs that leaves Dr. Tenma grieving the loss of his son, and in his depression, he utilizes a powerful blue-energy sphere to give life to a robot-copy of his son. Unable to bear the robot’s resemblance to his child, however, Dr. Tenma demands he leaves, and after being chased by an overzealous politician looking to possess the blue-sphere energy, ‘Astro’ finds himself on the surface.
Once on the surface, Astro is befriended by a group of orphan children under the partial care of a robot mechanic. A few plot twists later, which fans of the original Astro Boy will likely see coming, Astro returns to Metro City where he must fight a giant robot powered by the oppositely-powered red-sphere and thusly save the world when the bullets start flying (and fly they do, as a brief warning to parents).
The plot has its share of plot-holes, from the politician’s motives seeming oddly different during the climax despite speaking his motive every 30 seconds earlier in the story. Nothing is as in depth as it could be, from the creation of Astro to the crumbling of his short relationship with Dr. Tenma and his subsequent search for humanity, but the linearity of the plot does have a pleasantly simple flow. Children shouldn’t have much difficulty following what’s going on, and older audiences will find enough charm in the humour and grit in the grimmer moments to be entertained along with them, though perhaps not on the same level.
The animation is one of the film’s strongest attributes and I was particular impressed with the adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s original designs to the 3D format. Astro, Dr. Tenma, Mr. Elefan and Mr. Mustachio are all immediately recognizable and there’s a definitive charm to the choice to maintain their appearances in such detail. Still, there is a distinct difference in their designs when compared to those new to the movie and the stylistic variances between the two groups looks a little uneven, such as comparing Tenma and Elefan’s large noses against a cast of more naturally-sized facial features, or Astro’s abnormally sized hands and head when next to the cast of children from the surface.
Along with the design aspects, the animation itself is fun to watch. Astro blasting through the skies in flight and weaving around buildings was joyful to follow and the action sequences were full of sharp explosions, smashing walls and a bad guy who, after some questionable introductory scenes, comes back as an honestly-intimidating force set on destroying Astro and annihilating the city to do so. The movie is bright and colourful overall, but also balances itself out visually with some dark motifs during scenes that well accommodate them, such as a deadly mechanical demonstration during the film’s opening portion.
Tezuka-fans will also be greeted by several ‘Easter eggs’ throughout the movie, including several appearances of Osamu Tezuka himself. It’s fun to keep an eye out for them and it shows a special level of attention by the IMAGI team to the story’s veteran fans.
There are a few distinct blots in this otherwise pretty entertaining endeavour however, that while not ruining the movie, definitely keep it from going good to great.
The worst offender was in regards to Dr. Tenma, who though generally well played by Nicholas Cage, was distractedly calm and collected in light of his son’s sudden and unfortunate death. While impressive that the filmmakers would choose to maintain such dark themes in the movie, the lack of a believable emotional response to something so horrific is a large pullback from the scene, especially one which is already so vague with intent to keep it from being too upsetting for children.
A team of three robots in the movie also prove to be indefinitely irrelevant to the plot and play no role past trying to force some extra humour into the plot. The only information they provide is a messy explanation of the 10 rules of robotics, which end up being as irrelevant as the robots themselves when robots-versus-humans never becomes a real decisive factor in the film.
There’s also the matter of Cora, a young girl from the surface who befriends Astro. She proves to be a decent character in her important, albeit slightly unmemorable, role but the final scene in the movie regarding the return of her parents is so ridiculous in the lack of explanation that it’s laughable, if not painful. Sadly serving as one of the last memories viewers will have of the movie, along with dramatic return to the surface that Metro City situations seem completely unaffected by, it leaves you with a bit of a proverbial bad taste.
Back to upsides however, the voice casting in the movie is good with a notably strong performance by Freddie Highmore as Astro. Known for playing more subdued characters such as Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I was hesitant about Highmore’s role as the pure and energetic Astro. Enjoyably these were worries swiftly quashed by his spirited and enthusiastic voice-work from the moment his character appears on the screen as Toby.
Overall Astro Boy proved itself to be an entertaining film, one that shows an appreciative dedication to the source material despite its more mainstream-requirements. Though failing to reach the potential of its own groundwork by choosing to put a bit too much kids’-movie gloss over its deeper briefly-glimpsed framework, Astro Boy is still a fun watch. It’s a film worth checking out when looking for some shiny animated-indulgence alongside its nostalgic undertones for the pre-disposed fan.
Review written October 25, 2009 by Lissa Pattillo
Movie viewed at Empire Theatres, Bayers Lake