ASTRO BOY: A Movie on Fast-forward
New Movie Plays Fast and Loose with History, But Still Packs a Punch!
Author: Bob Johnson
Official Movie Site: Astro Boy
Warning: This review may contain some spoilers…
Astro Boy (known as Tetsuwan Atom, or Mighty Atom, in Japan) made his big screen debut this weekend in the US with Imagi’s new CGI adventure. The robot boy with rockets in his loafers is treated with respect, however the story and subplots come across as a bit rushed and things happen a little too fast.
In this version Metro City is a flying island in the clouds above the Earth, where the wealthy live and are served by a robotic populace. Below on Earth, civilians live in a robotic junkyard where used up scraps of obsolete robots are discarded from the floating upper class.
Dr. Tenma helps a power-mad politician President Stone to create a “Peace Keeper” robot using powerful rocks from space that provide the ultimate energy source. The blue stone is “Positive energy” and the red stone is “Negative energy”. Positive is good, peaceful and acquiescent. Red is bad, evil and uncontrollable. Wanting an ultimately powerful robot to wage war on the “surface dwellers” and earning himself re-election in a time of war (draw your own parallels), President Stone orders that the red energy be used in the robot, against the protests of both Dr. Tenma and Dr. Elephun (who originally discovered the two stones when they fell to Earth).
In the midst of the debate, Dr. Tenma’s son Toby enters the test area (after sneaking into the Ministry of Science) and once the robot is infused with red energy and goes berserk, is obliterated in the upheaval.
This is a much more violent end for Toby than in any previous version. Up until now it was a car accident that killed Toby in his human state.
As in the original versions, Dr. Tenma creates a robot boy with Toby’s thoughts and memories infused into the artificial body. However, soon after, Tenma realizes that the replica is no replacement for the original and rejects him, causing Toby (who soon before discovered he could fly and bore through mountains) to fly off and run away. In previous versions, Tenma sold Toby to a robot circus where ringmaster Hamegg forces him to perform. It also took him a while to realize his mistake in creating a replica of his son and to reject the robotic clone. However, in this film, these things have to move fast to cram everything they try to include into a 90-minute package.
In the new film, Toby is pursued by Stone’s forces and ultimately knocked off the floating city, falling to Earth and befriending human children there, only to be caught by Hamegg and forced to fight in a robot gladiator competition.
Along the way, Toby encounters the Robot Revolutionary Front (an overtly MONTY PYTHON-influenced group of robots), who redub him “Astro”, a name he retains to separate himself from the human boy he was meant to replace.
Once in the arena, Astro refuses to fight the other robots, but as soon as he is attacked, he proceeds to make scrap metal of all competitors. His unwillingness to fight other robots is in keeping with the original Astroboy, however he is very quick to change his mind, which makes his rebellious stance seem rather superficial. Again, the movie rushes this to move things along.
Originally Dr. Elephun discovers Astro in the circus and buys him from Hamegg, adopting and raising him. In this version, Astro is captured by Stone’s troops and returned to Tenma to remove the blue energy and turn it over to the President.
When Tenma suddenly has a change of heart, he returns the blue energy to Astro, who flies off only to be chased by the Peace Keeper robot, who absorbs President Stone in the process, setting up the ultimate battle between Astro and the giant robot, who speaks with the President’s voice and acts based on his maniacal power-mongering intentions.
Although the movie seems rushed plot-wise and glosses over or skims through some aspects of Astroboy’s history and character, it is ultimately a highly entertaining action film. The pace is quick and the battles plentiful enough to keep even the most ADD of audience members interested.
The computer animation is about what you would expect these days and one thing I can say about the action sequences is that they are presented in a straight-forward fashion, allowing you to see and take in everything that is going on. Unlike most of today’s films with their constantly moving cameras, quick edits and extreme close-ups on hands, feet, faces, etc. to present a mish-mash of flying images that confuse more than entertain the audience (see the latest TRANSFORMERS for example).
The film as a whole has a light and colorful look to it, another nice change from typically dark and muted films from Hollywood. It may not be as colorful as last year’s SPEED RACER, but it is a welcome step out of the “dark” and into the light.
The characters are pretty one-dimensional in this version, aside from Dr. Tenma and Astro, but the actors all do a fine job with what they are given. Stand outs are Nicolas Cage as Dr. Tenma, Bill Nighy as Dr. Elephun and Donald Sutherland as President Stone.
In one nice nod to the original mangas, one of Dr. Tenma’s assistants looks like Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy’s creator and Japan’s proclaimed god of manga. Tezuka would often draw himself into his comics in a sort of Hitchcock-like cameo. To do so in the movie was very fitting.
Despite the cries of heresy by purists of the series, the new film succeeds to present Astro Boy to a new generation and even previous versions of the robotic icon have changed things here and there.
ASTRO BOY is a film that begs for a series of sequels, but only time and box-office numbers will tell if this will actually happen. In the meantime, enjoy the movie and when the DVD comes out, have yourself a double-feature of this and the new SPEED RACER. Both will offer a fun time, old skool anime style!
For more information on ASTRO BOY please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- ASTRO BOY Lands at L.A. Anime Expo 2008!
- Imagi Studios Announces First ASTRO BOY Licensing Deals
- Peter Fernandez: Speed Dubbing!
- 2003-04 ASTRO BOY Anime Series Returns on Region 1 DVD