After his son dies, a rocket scientist of the future builds a robot replacement who learns to be a hero and breaches the gap between human and robot kind.
David Bowers, 2009
I’m coming to this without having really experienced Astro Boy in his original anime form. I’m not a big fan of the medium (a combination of the epileptic-fit-inducing graphics of old-school anime and overexposure as a child in Japan, I think), but this movie is in fairly well-realised 3D, so that isn’t an issue. I’ve seen some pictures and I knew the basic (depressing) background story, but aside from that I was coming to this with no preconceptions and fresh eyes.
As a children’s movie, I think it’s pretty good. I quite like the sad beginning, although it’s followed by a radical and abrupt change in tone and pace that isn’t handled as well as it could be. The message is a good one, and Astro is a hero kids can get behind – he’s smart and lonely as well as super. I bet the kids would love the (admittedly pointless) Robot Revolutionary Front (I think that’s what it’s called?) and the colourful orphan kids, but not grasp the deeper concepts at play here, and I think the film was made that way. The darkness is obscured by overly cheerful moments, some needlessly visually complex scenes, and an ending that needlessly puts a bow on too many loose ends.
Having said that, the design is lovely. I saw elements of a lot of movies in here – I, Robot, Iron Giant, the animated Robots, AI – but it also feels like it’s a lot of movies pushed together. The voice acting is mostly sweet (I particularly liked Donald Sutherland as a less calculating and more unhinged President Snow-like villain) and somewhat muted, not as loud and overbearing as it could be. There are some gorgeous shots along with the overly complex ones, and some quirky design elements that make this feel more like a fully realised world than some others I’ve seen.
The scientist and his son live on a sky island called Metro City, where everything is lovely and robots wait on humans hand and foot, but a lot of the action takes place on the surface of the world, which seems to have become just a dump for old robots and kids. (Where are their parents? Who knows?) The introduction to this world rushes past and is largely a confusing mess, setting up for a middling second act. The third act, while realising Astro fully, is the most disappointing. The message delivery was a little hokey and overdone, as well, and the end kind of destroyed my good spirits from earlier on (with the exception of a moment between a giant killer robot and a microphone). The strongest part of the movie, for me, is the heartbreaking opening sequence.
The voice cast, by the way, is not only star-studded, but also features a few comedy actors I’m very fond of in relatively minor roles (Alan Tudyk, Ryan Stiles, Bill Nighy, Nathan Lane, David Alan Grier, and Kristen Bell all feature). I didn’t recognise a lot of them, but I always recognise Nathan Lane.
Astro Boy on IMDb