Astro Boy is the story of Dr. Tenma, one of the most brilliant scientific minds in Metro City, creating a robotic replica of his son whom he lost in a military robot experiment gone awry. Metro City floats high above the surface of Earth and is shiny and clean thanks to it’s reliance on robots to handle all day to day mundane tasks that humans have grown tired of. Robots are replaced when they go bad with their remnants dumped down on the surface dwellers which has become a vast landfill of robot parts.
There is an increasing arms race between the surface dwellers and those living in Metro City. The president of Metro is determined to escalate the arms race in order to be prepared for all out war with the those below the city that float among the clouds, and increase his latest poll numbers in the process. The positive blue energy intended for the military bots isn’t used in favor of negative red energy. Which naturally goes nuts proving it shouldn’t be used in the new war machines, and was also what vaporized Dr. Tenma’s real son in the process.
If lots of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Using what most consider the originator of Anime as its source, Astro Boy in this modern reboot/origin story comes across as a film that has borrowed heavily from several films. There are elements of Pinocchio, Astro Boy lies to what becomes his friends down on the ‘surface’ to avoid being outcast as a robot. He is made by an otherwise lonely guy to make up for the son, that in this instance, he once had but neglected. It plays like a child’s version of Iron Man. With all the talk of weapons manufacturing, and the fact that Astro Boy is powered by a blue orb (similar to the blue chest piece that Tony Stark aka Iron Man has, more powerful and longer lasting than nuclear energy. It even ends in the typical good vs evil giant evil robot vs Astro fight. There are other moments here and there that reminded me of E.T. and WALL-E.
The film constantly panders to kids, there is a dim-witted butler robot that serves no purpose other than to generate laughs, and then there are the butt guns on Astro that pop out at a point in the film that just weren’t needed. Sure it keeps kids entertained but for what it cost a family to go to the movies these days, fare like this is best consumed on DVD at home and not a pricey evening at the theater.
All the big name voice talent used in the film also falls flat, there were several instances where it felt like the dialog was just getting a simple read through without any emotional heft to it. The animation was good but still a year or two behind the bar constantly set by Pixar.
I did find one thing interesting in the film, it of course doesn’t do much of anything with it. Asimov’s three laws of robotics are cited by a rouge sect of robots on the surface that go by the RRF or Robot Revolutionary Front. They plan to find and torture a robot mechanic who is in the business of building fighting robots from the scraps dumped down on the surface. I won’t ruin the joke but it was a quick interesting spin on the laws and what the not so hardcore revolutionaries plan to do.
This film suffered from a pretty troubled production bouncing from studio to studio and director to director. No one wanted to show Astro Boy any love, much like his father in the film prior to losing him. This is direct to DVD fare that, to me, acts as nothing more than an extended pilot for a new cartoon network show.
Astro Boy gets 2 “even Hollywood’s top overacting talent can’t save Astro Boy” out of 5.
By John Coovert