Stir-Fry Cinema Podcast Series

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Astro Boy

Astro Boy
Genre: Family, Animation

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane

Director: David Bowers

Release Date: October 23rd 2009

     In the floating metropolis of Metro City, technology has taken the form of robots that serve society's every whim.  They cook for us, clean for us, drive for us, and when they become broken or outdated, they are discarded to the Earth's surface.  The most brilliant robotocist in Metro City is Dr. Tenma, widely respected yet wholly neglectful of his son, Toby, a genius in his own right.

     While demonstrating his new "Peacekeeper" robot, tragedy strikes for Dr. Tenma.  Stricken with grief, Tenma builds Astro Boy, a truly state-of-the-art robot packed with defensive capabilities, and bearing the name and memories of his son.  Powerful people have other designs for the boy, though.  Can this new Toby find his place in the world before it's too late.

     Adapted from the famous Japanese manga series of the same name, Astro Boy is a pleasant surprise amidst a slew of disappointing and lackluster family films.  Though a fan of manga and anime, I was not very familiar with the original Astro Boy series, and I think this probably worked in my favor as far as my enjoyment of the film goes.  I didn't go into it with lofty expectations, so I wasn't disappointed by any changes they may have made.

     The first thing I noticed is the art style.  They keep the over-exaggerated physical characteristics so common to anime in many places, and I think it worked well for the way the characters were designed.  Also, the animation itself is beautiful.  Every scene is clean and complete, with a great attention to detail that really made the sci-fi utopia Metro City really immersive.

     The action scenes were particularly well done, also.  Each choice of angle is well planned, and complements the scene without intruding.  I enjoyed the film overall, but the action/fight sequences particularly caught my attention.  It's not every day an animated film gets my adrenaline going.

     Having said that, the story is a bit formulaic.  There are some nice (though predictable) "surprises", but the writing wasn't award worthy by any meas.  That didn't detract from my enjoyment, though, as this is really a film for kids, and you have to approach it with that in mind.

     Despite other weaknesses in the script, though, there were some VERY funny moments.  As usual when he is part of the cast, most of these belonged to Bill Nighy.  The humor was not too highbrow, though.  Even though I enjoy when a movie like this can slip in some humor for the parents, I feel many movies these days try much too hard at that, and as a result, they miss opportunities for good humor that children will enjoy.  This one did a nice job in balancing that, though.

     The voice acting was all tolerable at least, and very good in some cases.  Nic Cage's voice tends to drive me a little crazy, but it wasn't too overwhelming in this.  The same goes for Donald Sutherland.  They irked me, but not too much.  Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell both did nice jobs.  Nathan Lane and Bill Nighy are both old hats at voice acting and were, of course, the highlights for me.  Nighy actually played two roles in the movie, one of which I didn't even realize was him until the credits rolled.

     There are some potentially upsetting places, particularly when Toby dies in the beginning.  I think for the most part, though, this will be more distressing for parents than for children.  At least when we watched it, when my daughter saw the robot that looked like Toby, sounded like Toby, and acted like Toby, she just thought, "Okay, Toby's back."  My wife didn't get past that quite as easily.

     Overall, this was a very nice film, animated or no.  I think it really stands out amid the stock of family films that have come out recently, and I am sad it didn't get appreciated more than it did.  I know I didn't hear much about it until it hit DVD.  Hopefully if they make a sequel, they will keep the same spirit and quality, because they could have a very good franchise on their hands.

Story: 4 out of 5
Animation: 4.5 out of 5
Voice Acting: 3.5 out of 5 (rating the cast as a whole, good with the bad)
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5


micheal.dill said...

I remember the original Astro-Boy from way back. It was actually on TV here in Kansas (this is before you were born, young man) and I have never forgotten it, though I've never seen it since. I'm gonna have to check this one out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of your review, although I liked the writing better than you did. And yes, it's a bummer that the movie got overlooked at the box office. It's a real treat, one for all ages. I too hope for a sequel.