Movie Review – Astro Boy

November 12, 2009

[REPOSTED]

This was a review I’ve done for Funkygrad: http://www.funkygrad.com/lifestyle/displayarticle.php?artID=1144&subcat=popcorn

*****

Release Date: 12 November 2009
Genre: Action/Adventure
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Featuring the Voices of: Freddy Highmore, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage
Director: David Bowers
Rating: 3/5

Astro Boy is one of the most popular Japanese manga characters around, a claim not so far-fetched if you consider the facts. The 1952 series by Osamu Tezawa had since seen three television animation spin-offs in 1963, 1980 and 2003 (the latter to celebrate the TV franchise’s fortieth anniversary) that has been broadcasted on television networks internationally.

But this first film adaptation has seen armchair critics quick to denounce Imagi Studios’ (the studio behind the 2007 film adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) attempted revival of the obsolete character that has greater halcyon days.

This is no surprise, as remakes these days are often trashed both critically and commercially for being much worse than the fondly-remembered original.

Yet if such historical anachronism is cast aside, this contemporary update is actually not half-bad. The film has defining moments along the way that will certainly connect with audiences both young and old, hence making it a pretty enjoyable day-out at the movies for the families.

Astro Boy follows the conventional superhero story arc that has been rehashed ad nauseam. The unwitting superhero, with all his debonair, is forced into dire straits by unbecoming circumstance. And in the mandatory fight between good-and-evil, Astro Boy falls down, comes back stronger, and of course, eventually emerges triumphant. All this, of course, provides for the perfect cathartic relief from the ills of society. Who does not like a story where the good vanquishes the evil?

Without going too deep into the spoilers, the story background remains generally true to the original (other than the fact that unlike the original, Astro Boy now dons a blue top rather than going topless). The year is sometime in the distant future and Earth has become a slum of discarded robot parts. With the exception of the cosmopolitan Metro City, a small metropolis that floats in the sky, an unveiled reference between the authority-wealthy rich and the poor who reside in the wastelands. Dr. Tenma (voiced by the versatile Nicolas Cage), is the chief scientist of Metro City and the father of Toby Tenma (voiced by the effervescent Freddy Highmore). The latter, mischievous as all young kids are, got himself killed in a laboratory accident through no fault of anyone else (and hence is unable to evoke my sympathy). Dr. Tenma then sets out to create a robotic version of his son, with “blue core” positive energy empowering his heart, hence establishing his superhero status. But along the way Dr. Tenma gets too conflicted with his own emotions for his own good.

Erstwhile, in a political twist President Stone (Donald Sutherland) is the overpowering leader who is pulling all stops to win the forthcoming elections with his popularity polls at an all-time low. And that includes creating an enemy character against the city for him to fight, and win, against so as to sway the votes of the public. Yet in reality winning a war is not a guarantee to winning elections, as President George H W Bush could easily testify, having lost to the succeeding Democrat President Bill Clinton-a relative unknown in the political scene at that time-due to the more pressing economic matters at home.

And this is where the main problem of the film lies. Within a short span of 1 hour 35 minutes the writers attempt to be apostles of too many pressing world issues, covering too much breadth but too little depth along the way. With so many directions pulling the film apart, there is no single clear focus. As a result more important factors like character development is sacrificed, which resulted in ambivalence quite a number of parts of the film despite Director David Bowers’ (the helm behind 2006’s Flushed Away) obvious efforts in milking emotions.

Also, while it is obvious that Imagi Studios was attempting to create an animation style in extolment of the original series, but the result was inconsistently glaring in a potpourri of animation and visuals that are neither modern nor historical.

For all its flaws in the kitsch artistic sense and poor editing, Astro Boy remains an enjoyable movie that has both laugh-out-loud moments and touching scenes, hence the above-average rating

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