Astro Boy could've been a nice film that pays respect to the property it's based upon while giving new viewers a look at this wonderful character. Instead what we get is a film that does stay true to the origins of the character but from there goes into a really lame and predictable story that is filled with too many jokes for its own good. Even as a sci-fi action movie Astro Boy leaves a lot to be desired.
It's a good film to put on for the kids and not have to worry about them for 94 minutes. The directing and action scenes are ok but may leave you wishing they were amped up a bit.
Terrible jokes. The movie drags because of the bad jokes and scenes that attempt to be dramatic. Voice acting feels uninspired at times. The story for the movie hits the marks of what should be in an Astro Boy movie but fails miserably at expanding them and making them entertaining.
In North America it’s pretty safe to say that Mickey Mouse is one of our iconic characters whose popularity spans the globe. Since being created little old Mickey has brought joy to many through the various projects he's appeared in. Japan has their version of Mickey, albeit with more of a sci-fi and action edge, in the classic manga/anime character Astro Boy.
Since first appearing in the pages of a manga in 1952 and later on TV in 1963, the character of Astro Boy has become a huge phenom and a source of national pride in Japan. The character has also done pretty decent outside of Japan, with projects ranging from TV shows and even a game released by Sega back in 2003. But after 57 years Astro is getting perhaps his biggest push in the spotlight with the release of his own computer animated movie from Imagi (TMNT). But if you’re a fan of the character, or just a casual movie viewer who likes cg/action/sci-fi movies, chances are you’ll probably walk out the theater thinking “WTF went wrong?”
The story of Astro Boy has a pretty simple premise. In the distant future a portion of humanity has left the bosom of mother Earth to take refuge in the sky (Star Wars Cloud City style) in a massive floating city dubbed Metro City. In Metro City humanity now relies on robots for essentially everything from big things like making products and buildings to little things like serving our food, caring for their children or keeping people company in the form of robotic pets. All this robot tech is due to the wonderful mind of Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicolas Cage).
Dr Tenma’s has a young son who is an extremely bright boy. One day in his quest for knowledge he visits an experiment his father is conducting, but due to an unforeseen incident is killed in the process. Grief stricken, Dr. Tenma decides to use his knowledge and bring his son back to life in robot form, thus begins the story of Astro Boy.
Astro Boy at its core follows the same premise as the anime and manga versions with a few additions, like new characters. But for some reason the film just falls flat on its robotic gun toting ass when it comes to the story.
If you haven’t seen the original Astro Boy anime then I suggest you check it out since its required viewing for anime fans. The one thing that may shock you is that despite being released in the 60s the anime itself is pretty damn dark at times in story and general themes. For some reason the writers of the film decided not to follow suit. As a result, what we get is tons of lame jokes, characters that appear merely to setup lame jokes and themes that feel like they were never fully pushed or realized. It’s understandable that the film needs to be accessible for kids as that’s clearly their intended target audience. But the comedy is so bad at times I feel like I should be commending them for not doing any fart or puke jokes.
In short, the comedy just kills the movie. It feels like the movie is trying too hard for its own good to be funny and appeal to the 6-10 year olds out there. Which can be fine, but there are times when it becomes disconcerting and flat out groan inducing as many of the "comedic" moments just drown things out at times. I honestly would like to know why the writers felt it was necessary to put a ton of jokes in the first action scene of the film instead of just giving viewers a straight up action scene that isn’t brought down by an overdose of horrific jokes.
When the film tries to be serious, like the relationship between Astro and Dr. Tenma, it just feels flat. What’s presented is almost worst than a Saturday morning cartoon. When Dr. Tenma shuns Astro Boy due to not fully being like his real son the scene should’ve had a ton of emotional impact, both to the viewer and to Astro. Instead it has no substance or weight to it. Now, to be completely fair the blame shouldn’t be placed soley on the writers since the voice acting is just dead on arrival for the majority of the film. This isn’t because the film is lacking talent. The cast features the already mentioned Nic Cage who is accompanied by Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and Freddie Highmore in the lead role of Astro. With the exception of Bill Nighy the cast just seems to be kind of calling it in with Nic Cage being the greatest offender, as his lines sound like he recorded them on the set of another movie or in a limo on his way to the spa. Cage doesn’t have any of that fatherly nature or brilliance as a scientist in his performance as Dr. Tenma and it’s just another in a long line of crap performances by him. The rest of the voice acting isn't overly bad, it’s just that it could’ve been a hell of a lot better. In the instances of the dramatic scenes it would’ve elevated things past the mediocre level that fills the film. But even if the actors did their job and try to put a little more emotion into their roles they still would’ve had a tough time with things since the writing is that dull and run of the mill.
If you want a straight forward Astro Boy story then you’ll be one sad panda since the film doesn’t exactly offer that. Yes, it does follow Astro as he learns his abilities and covers what being a robot means for his life. But besides that and the attempts that fail miserably at building him up as a character, the movie just has subplots or brief sections that will bore you to tears. Seeing the folks who live on the surface away from the luxury of Metro City could’ve been a nice attempt at giving the movie an edge or some depth in showing in the differences in social class and living. But instead we’re given jokes such as cockroaches being on pizza and a scene showing a “no parents sector” which once again just screams that the writers are trying too damn hard to appeal to the kiddies.
When it comes to portraying the villain and the key threat to the characters the film fails. President Stone falls under the cliché military buffoon category and the climax of the film lacks any punch, both from an action and dramatic standpoint. You never feel like anything is at stake.
For those who simply enjoy watching CG movies like myself, chances are just like everything else in the movie you’ll either be bored or flat out disappointed. Astro Boy isn’t a terrible movie from a visual standpoint and doesn’t have any major issues such as poor animation or uneven effects. It’s just that everything is kind of "meh". The character models resemble their manga/anime counterparts with only a few minor tweaks and in general they’re executed fine. For the most part they’re literally the original designs, but in CG. Imagi opted not to go for an uber realistic look as the character models don’t have pores on their skin and other minute details, which is quite nice. It would’ve been really odd to see a realistic looking Dr. Elefun with his massive bulbous nose created Square Enix style.
One minor gripe with the character models is that the skin textures seem off in a way and look glossy. This was probably done in an attempt to make them look cartoonier but if you’re a CG snob like I am then it may take awhile for you to accept that look. If you do at all. Everything else in the film just lacks a certain spark even though the visuals ranging from the design of Metro City, the various robots and special effects like fire and smoke are done competently. Compared to Imagi’s last film TMNT it just looks like Astro Boy is two steps behind in the visual quality and overall appeal department.
At the end of the day Astro Boy is just a massive misfire and wasted opportunity. It’s fine for certain concessions to be made in an attempt to make the character more appealing to those unfamiliar with the source material. But the constant barrage of jokes and lack of depth to the story makes the film just another average CG movie aimed for the kids who like bright lights and silly joke gags. The film doesn’t really have any of the heart or charm that the manga and anime are known for and is just an extremely dull movie. Despite the 94 minute runtime, it drags and feels like a full two hour movie. Average action scenes, uninspired voice acting, and a terrible joke laden story makes Astro Boy more of a disappointing manga / anime adaptation than Dragonball: Evolution was. Especially since it’s a damn CG movie and it’s mediocre at best.