Film review – Astro Boy (2009)

Astro Boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore)

Astro Boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore)

Similar to the Transformers films, the new Astro Boy film is more concerned with finding a new contemporary audience, who may have never heard of the robot boy character before, rather than providing a nostalgia trip for older audiences who grew up with the original character. The good news is that the new Astro Boy film is far superior to the Transformers films and while some of us may feel a little sad that the theme music from the original television cartoon doesn’t even appear during the end credits of the new film, this new Astro Boy is still a tremendous amount of fun.

For the uninitiated, Astro Boy first appeared as a character in a 1951 manga, created by the legendary Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka who has been referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney (with Astro Boy being his Mickey Mouse). The very basic premise in this 2009 film maintains the character of Astro Boy (voiced by Freddie Highmore) as a Pinocchio for the atomic age. Set in a futuristic world where humans and robots co-exists, Astro Boy is created by scientific genius Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicholas Cage) after the death of his son. However, once Astro Boy is brought to life, Tenma decides that he has made a huge mistake and the boy robot is cast out to fend for himself.

This Astro Boy is overall aimed at younger audiences with the darker aspects of Astro’s origins being rather rushed so that the film can arrive at the point where it can start to introduce lighter and more comedic elements.  However, there is a lot of humour and a lot of visual gags in Astro Boy which are genuinely funny, so the older audiences won’t mind the Saturday morning kids cartoon feel to some of the scenes. Older audiences are particularly going to enjoy the General Stone character (voiced with wicked relish by Donald Sutherland) who is trying to win popular approval by starting a war on false pretences and using slogans such as “It’s Not Time For Change!”

sq1170-s0010-f0129_cDirected by David Bowers (Flushed Away) the animation in Astro Boy is not jaw-dropping on its own accord but it does facilitate the storyline and stylistically evokes the original series artwork, with a more modern edge. Astro Boy does contain several nods to its Japanese origins with the inclusion of a couple of giant robots and the sort of mass metropolitan destruction that features so prominently in post-World War II Japanese popular culture. Nevertheless, the film never gets too dark for its young audience and indeed it is during one of the big carnage scenes that the filmmakers very comically reveal Astro discovering that he has machine guns in his butt. Moments such as this one help to make this new incarnation of Astro Boy a suitably fun and entertaining hero for a new generation.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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1960s Astro Boy television cartoon opening credits

1980s Astro Boy television cartoon opening credits

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5 Responses to Film review – Astro Boy (2009)

  1. Bethany says:

    I wish they had kept it in the original animation style, im a bit dissapointed its 3d styley :(

  2. Hi Bethany

    I completely agree and I would have much preferred the old-school 2D animation too. However, this is really a film made for a new generation of young people who probably haven’t grown up with the original cartoon series. So, the animation in the film is tailored to meet their contemporary expectations and it does the job.

    Cheers
    Thomas

  3. Luke Buckmaster says:

    It would be rather good if one day I too realised I had machine guns up my but (hey, we all can dream, can’t we?). Yeah it’s disappointing that the grungy look of the show has been expunged by the cuddly, curvy CGI look, but you can understand the logic behind it. One way or another the Astro Boy aesthetic would have had to be upgraded.

  4. Francesco A says:

    I have to tell, to my opinion the question is not the 3D itself, which perfectly fits the trend now days, but the questionable choice to change the looks of the character, making it look more tough and adult in the american way…
    Originally Atom’s concept was based on the pure, gentle, good at heart little child image, inspirational for all the audience, young or older.
    With wise mind, honest, brave, and the real spirit of helping others; in simple words a real hero.
    Living in Japan I can testify that the spirit I’m talking about is still alive, and still inspires lots of people.
    Once anyone tries to remake a classic hero, that could be Superman or any other, they should keep in mind the original concept that gave life to him…
    This time I feel like that spirit got lost somehow.
    The director just missed something in the character most deep soul, and that’s sad for all the fans to find out. Exactly what happened with Superman Returns.

  5. Hi Francesco

    Thanks for dropping by and explaining a bit about the significance of Astro (or Atom) in Japan. What you’ve said does help to explain why Astro’s new look in this film is so disappointing for long terms fans.

    I suppose the only explanation is that this film was made for a broad international audience who don’t have the same appreciation for the character as people in (and also many outside of) Japan do. However, I’m not defending that attitude and I do think it is a shame that this new film did not retain Astro’s original appearance.

    Cheers
    Thomas

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