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!”
Directed 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
1960s Astro Boy television cartoon opening credits
1980s Astro Boy television cartoon opening credits