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Watch THIS Instantly: Astro Boy (2009)

Hey everyone, Justin here with a look at the CGI adaptation of Astro Boy from a couple of years ago. Watch THIS Instantly: Astro Boy (2009)

I’m not a big manga or anime guy. I don’t have any particular bias, it’s just that a lot of the material doesn’t interest me. I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt that it’s mostly because I haven’t been exposed to what I would like. I am however a HUGE fan of Osamu Tezuka’s manga in particular Black Jack, Dororo, and Astro Boy. If you’re not familiar with Tezuka’s work, you should really check it out. In the pantheon of comic artists, he should be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Kirby, Siegel and Shuster, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, etc. He’s that important. In addition to being the “god father of manga,” his 1950’s Astro Boy cartoon was essentially the same catalyst for anime. His innovate 6 frame per second animation style allowed for cartoons to be produced far more cheaply than ever before. In that sense, he is practically as important and revered by the animation world as Walt Disney and Windsor McKay.Aside from Tezuka’s contributions to comics and anime, the actual quality of his work is why you should care about him. Astro Boy, while a comic for children is full of very intelligent and non-patronizing examinations of racism, war, hatred, compassion, love, and what makes us human. The comic is nuanced and complicated, as identifiably Japanese as Mickey Mouse is to the US, but also universal in scope. Yesterday I had just finished reading Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, an unbelievably amazing re-interpretation of an Astro Boy story from the 50’s when my interest was finally piqued enough to check out 2009’s Astro Boy.

The movie Astro Boy is a wholly American production. As such, it smoothes over the delightful Japanese quirkyness of the original – Astro is fully clothed for the whole movie, his relationship with his dad/creator, Dr. Tenma, is normalized to a degree, the world resembles Wall-E more than anything else, etc. Most egregiously though, Astro Boy loses the complex morality of the original. Astro Boy villains typically have good reasons for being bad. In a lot of cases, those villains are also capable of good. Morality is laid out on a spectrum. I think it’s important that children (and adults) have the world view that morality is complex and that there aren’t really good and bad people but rather that everyone is capable of doing both good and evil. This is the main reason why I have a hard time with LOTR and Harry Potter.So then Astro Boy stripped of his complexity and uniqueness becomes just another non-Pixar CG animated movie. I suppose there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with it. If I could approach the movie without my biases of what a good Astro Boy story would be, I probably would have liked it a lot more. As it stands, it’s a victim of the same tropes that annoy me about the vast majority of kids movies. Instead of the sassy talking animals, we have sassy talking robots, in this case a talking squeegee and a Windex bottle. There are the annoying caricatures of a different culture, in this case a group of very unfunny British robots. Two dimensional characters populate every corner of the movie from the flat love interest, precocious kids, greedy politicians, and mad scientists.The story centers around the creation of Astro Boy as the human child he is based on dies in an unfortunate accident. Astro awakes as a robot being raised as a boy and soon discovers the truth about himself. Ultimately he is exiled from the floating sci-fi paradise he lives in to the wasteland of the Earth and falls in with some other kids and Nathan Lane, who plays a robot-fighting coach. Eventually the government decides that they need to recapture Astro to retrieve his power core.

On a whole, the voice acting was unobtrusive and uninteresting with two exceptions. Donald Sutherland plays the movie’s bad guy, a war mongering politician hell bent on making an evil robot with an evil red power core. Astro’s core is blue, so you know he’s good… Sutherland sleepwalks through the movie. His voice acting a complete disconnect with how his character is animated. One extremely pleasant surprise was the casting of TMA patron saint of crazy, Nicholas Cage as Astro’s creator, Dr. Tenma. This was inspired. Cage fits the part perfectly and would work just as well in a live action version. Somehow even with computer animation between Cage and the viewer, he manages to steal the show and inject a weird edginess that makes the first half of the movie much more watchable.The problem with Astro Boy the movie is that it’s not special. That’s may be an unfair complaint. But everything about the character and the character’s legacy is special. As it stands, it’s probably a perfectly suitable kids movie. It doesn’t ask a lot from them and would probably be entertaining enough. My suggestion though, if you’re a parent would be to pick up some of the Astro Boy reprint comics from Dark Horse. You and your kids will be richer for it.

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Watch THIS Instantly: Astro Boy (2009) + TIME