I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant going into Astro Boy, the big-screen adaptation of the cult Japanese cartoon. Having grown up watching the various Japanese cartoons, Astro Boy always stood out as one that left a memorable impression. Big robots battling it out against each other, or alien invaders, Astro Boy was about fun. Would the modern day re-imagining of Astro Boy do justice to the classic series and draw a new generation in? Unfortunately not. Not that it’s a terrible movie, but it’s not really one that’s geared towards kids. The messages and political undertones in the movie gear this more towards adults, people that are not going to flock to theaters to see this on their own.
Astro Boy begins with a quick animated sequence showing how humanity ruined the planet and Metro City, a city in the clouds is humanities eden. People are happy and robots are tasked with doing all the work. The man making this life of leisure possible via his robotic inventions is Dr. Tenma, voiced by Nicolas Cage, the father of 13 year old Toby, voiced by Freddie Highsmith. Toby looks set to follow in his fathers footsteps until an unfortunate accident leaves Dr Tenma alone and pining for his son.
Guilt stricken, Dr. Tenma creates a virtually indestructible robot version of his dead son. Using a strand of his sons hair, he’s able to implant the boys memories into the robot, in he hopes of bringing his son back. Not realizing that he’s actually a robot, all goes well for Toby at first, but Dr. Tenma begins to notice small discrepancies and comes to the realization that this robot is not his son, nor will he ever be. This disillusionment leads the doctor to banish Toby and after a small confrontation with President Stone’s, voiced by Donald Sutherland, troops Toby falls from Metro City to the Earth’s surface.
Joining with a group of kids on the surface, Toby eventually reveals his secret and takes the name of Astro Eventually Astro Boy makes it back up to Metro City to battle it out with a giant version of a red energy powered robot and saves the day.
Director David Bowers has managed to keep the story largely faithful, but has added a bit too much political commentary that’s going to go right over the heads of younger kids. With the Blue Energy representing good and Red Energy representing evil one can’t help but think of the U.S.’s political landscape. Even the theme of starting a war in order to get re-elected smacks of political commentary. Perhaps it’s the banners stating “Now is Not the Time for Change” that really send it over the edge. It’s as if they’re smacking you over the head and trying to tell you one is better than the other, and it’s apparent by their Blue comments on just who they prefer. For me this really hurt the film, which could have been far more enjoyable.
The voice acting is solid for the most part. Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland and Highsmith all do a great job, but Nicolas Cage as Dr. Tenma felt wrong from the start. It felt like a cold, dead performance, one that didn’t match the look of the doctor. I was particularly disappointed in it. Visually, Hong Kong’s Imagi Studios does a great job. The colors are vibrant and really stand out, and the animation is fluid and looks superb.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the end result. Astro Boy is supposed to be targeted to a younger generation, but its political messages are anything but. So much potential was lost. If you must see it I’d recommend waiting to watch it at home, especially if you have an HD tv and blu-ray player, it’ll look great on it.