10.29.2009

Astro Boy : 3 of 5

As soon as I first heard the rumors about an Astro Boy movie, I immediately had mixed emotions about it, since I knew that a modern "hip" American version of this classic Japanese character could never live up to what I've enjoyed in manga and anime. Of course, that wasn't going to stop me from seeing the film, and I definitely had a great time watching it! This movie is filled with things done right, but also riddled with things done wrong (especially for a serious Astro Boy fan). I guess I'll begin with the bad elements, starting with the bizarre changes to the story, which is now set in Metro City, a floating paradise above a WALL-E-esque trash heap Earth (which cruelly still has human outcasts living on it!). Dr. Tenma is now heavily involved with the military, and even the president of Metro City is a completely one-sided, ridiculously shallow warmonger. Astro ends up on junkyard Earth and makes friends with some orphan kids, who are unfortunately typical cookie-cutter "cool kids" found in way too many animated films. Even the music is a little obvious and heavy-handed, since even simple conversations are over-scored with dramatic themes! Finally, Nicolas Cage and Donald Sutherland deliver some of the worst voice acting I've ever heard (I wish studios would quit booking voices on celebrity recognition). Now it's time for the good stuff! The action sequences are excellent, and Astro's first flight through the city and in the clouds, as well as the discovery of his powers, is breathtaking! The design of Metro City architecture is really cool (quite a bit like the manga), and I really enjoyed the Tezuka Easter eggs (including a glimpse of the original Astro blueprints, and even a Hyoutan-Tsugi on the side of a building). And to counter those terrible voices, Freddie Highmore is fantastic as Astro himself! Without his sensitive and authentic performance, this movie would have been dismal! I suppose the filmmakers tried their best to Westernize this story (most likely under marketing pressure), but as an Astro fan I have to feel a little disappointed at what could have been an awesome addition to the world of Astro Boy. But if you're looking for some great animated action and a mild introduction to this fun character, don't hesitate to check it out!

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