Several hundred years into the future Metro City, a land filled with riches and intelligence, decided it was time to break free from the rest of the world. A world that had become so full of pollution that the dwellers of Metro City simply couldn’t cope with it anymore, so they affixed rockets to the belly of Mt Sufion and took to the skies. A number of years later the father of modern robotics, Dr Bill Tenma, is working on a new range of robots to help the prosperous, tidy and what appears to be somewhat green Metro City continue to be a great land when his equally brilliant son, Toby follows him into his laboratory.
What happens next is every parent’s worst nightmare; Toby is killed violently by a robot with an unstable core. Grief does strange things to people and Bill opted to recreate his son rather than cope with the passing of his only child. He does this by creating the most lifelike and advanced robot ever made. To make his son even more real, Bill takes a hair from the only item of Toby’s that wasn’t vaporised – his hat – and clones his memories and uploads them into his latest bit of kit.
Any fantasy and sci-fi fan can tell you that clones, even clones that are robots, aren’t the same as the original person and if only someone had told Bill this – as before long he realises that he can’t stand Toby. Toby overhears this and manages to fly away from his father after a slight row and then is found by the President of Metro City. The President is after Toby due to his power source, the rare blue core and he thinks it will help him secure re-election. Toby is blasted by the President’s goons and he falls out of the sky and lands on the Earth’s surface. Before long he is taken in by the locals under the new name of Astro and has to deal with the complex situation of everyone thinking he’s human when he isn’t. Of course, it doesn’t take long for his secret to become known and then as it becomes known he has to battle to save not just Metro City but the entire world.
Of course, Astro Boy isn’t a direct and faithful manga-to-film transition, more of a reimagining of some of the key points from Tezuka’s 1952 work. Yet, due to this, the film manages to charm and play with what was current nearly sixty years ago and make the storyline fit into the modern day with relative ease. As this is a child’s film, the storyline is somewhat simplistic; however, the character development throughout the film is easily viewable. From Bill learning how to cope with his child’s death, to his abandonment of his reborn child to accepting him again towards the end of the film, it’s clear that the producers of Astro Boy are intent on drawing as many emotions out of its audience as possible. All of the primary characters have depth, from Toby/Astro to Astrid and the majority of the other characters in between; there are backstories to be told for each of the characters which are merely hinted at in the most meagre of ways. To a child these subtleties are well hidden, but to the adult watcher it gives the film more depth and creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
Naturally there are characters that are good and those that are evil and due to the way the characters are portrayed it’s very easy to get behind the protagonists and enjoy hating characters that really do deserve it. The President it one such character and although it’s very tongue in cheek, it could easily be referenced to the recent elections in the UK, where politicians will do anything that they can to remain in power. Astro Boy also opens up questions about humanity itself – is a robot with a human mind a human or a robot? This sort of question isn’t something that a viewer would expect from a shallow, Japanese action, kids film. Fortunately at no point is Astro Boy a shallow film, it touches on many elements of daily life, from fitting in with your peers to discrimination and back again. These themes are masterfully dealt with and a child will see very little of this and what they do see will be considered normal to them. It’s from an adult’s eye where this film truly comes to life.
Astro Boy is also a joy to watch, it’s CGI animation suits it down to the ground, with smooth animation and crisp corners there’s none of the “cheap” animation that’s often seen in budget shows. As the film is entirely CGI, apart from a few opening credits, the film falls straight into the Finding Nemo and Wall-E bracket of animation style, except slightly more generic. This would be fine for a standard Nickelodeon film; however, Astro Boy has more of a storyline and much more potential, therefore the inoffensive style is trying too hard to remove itself from its Japanese routes and thus removing part of the soul of the film. Fortunately the great voice acting cast manages to add a lot of soul back to the film. From the likes of Nicholas Cage, Matt Lucas and Kristen Bell, the acting is first class with no overdone moments or poignant moments that fall flat. To put it very simply, Astro Boy is a perfect family film and executed brilliantly.
Astro Boy is masterfully executed, with a great storyline, brilliant voice acting and a passable, inoffensive animation style for the mass market consumer. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film and a great one for all of the family; however, purists will be immediately turned off due to the lack of cohesion to the original Tezuka work.