“Astro-Boy” Blu-Ray Review

Astro Boy

Astro Boy

– for some action and peril, and brief mild language.
Director: David Bowers
Starring: voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicholas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: October 23, 2009
Blu-Ray Release Date: March 16, 2010 (Amazon.com)
Website: astroboy.com

Plot Summary
Set in futuristic Metro City, “Astro Boy” is about a young robot with incredible powers created by a brilliant scientist. Powered by positive “blue” energy, “Astro Boy” is endowed with super strength, x-ray vision, unbelievable speed and the ability to fly. Embarking on a journey in search of acceptance, Astro Boy learns the joys and emotions of being human, and gains the strength to embrace his destiny. Ultimately learning his friends and family are in danger, “Astro Boy” marshals his awesome super powers and returns to Metro City in a valiant effort to save everything he cares about and to understand what it takes to be a hero. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review
Astro Boy debuted in 1952 as a Japanese manga series. It was later brought over to the U.S., translated in English, and has since gone on to be reimagined in the form of a few different cartoon series and even some movies over in Japan. There’s quite a history behind Astro Boy, and in 2009, Summit Entertainment brought it to the big screen in the U.S. in the form of a full-length computer animated film.

I never got around to seeing Astro Boy in the theaters, but on blu-ray disc, it looks gorgeous. The colors are vibrant and the animation is quality. It’s evident that the film makers took special care with the beloved characters from the series from Toby/Astro to Dr. Tenma and Dr. Elefun. The film gets off to a strong start as we meet Toby and Dr. Tenma, and already are introduced to the tense relationship between the two. Dr. Tenma is a workaholic father who never makes time for his son. And when his son inevitably dies (in the original series it was a car accident, it’s much different in the film), he’s grief stricken and inspired to build a robot likeness of his son to replace him. But when the robot boy ends up leaving his home city, landing in a neglected version of Earth (there are large junkyard portions… think Wall-E), the film starts to turn into a futuristic version of Pinocchio and starts introducing too many characters at once. The kids Astro meets on the surface were never part of any other series of Astro Boy, so they’re created just for this movie, and it’s actually a bit too obvious. Each character is created from scratch while many of the original Astro characters are at least based off an original model of some kind. The kids look much too poorly and cheesily designed – sort of like a corny CG afternoon special or bad video game children character design. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the rest of the movie feels altogether timeless and unique, and then we have these shaggy-haired kids which are modeled after the kind of “cool” misfit teenagers of today. It doesn’t work well and it almost ruins the movie.

While I’m on the topic of negatives, the other big problem Astro Boy has is that it gets very, very political in plot. There’s no reason for it, but the film gives us a villain who is the President of their Metro City and is constantly (and I really mean constantly) talking about ways of getting re-elected – usually by trying to spark a war or something. It becomes overly obvious the message the filmmakers are going for when, towards the end of the film, we see a banner for the President’s campaign that says “It’s Not Time For Change”… especially with the knowledge that our current President’s campaign completely revolved around the call for “change.” For a movie like this, it was weird to have such a political theme and it will definitely hurt some people’s enjoyment of the film. I personally would rather not have political agendas in animated family films, but others will probably appreciate the humor that they attempted with it instead.

Despite the flub with the newer characters, the political agenda, and even the heavy thematic element involving the actual death of Dr. Tenma’s son, Astro himself is a great little superhero and an endearing character. Highmore does a good job voicing him, although the animation doesn’t quite convey the emotion and enthusiasm Highmore puts into it (as evidenced by the behind-the-scenes studio voice recording footage of Highmore’s recording session). Nathan Lane stands out as well as the charismatic Hamegg, while Nicolas Cage’s take on Dr. Tenma seems phoned-in at first, but improves greatly as the film progresses. Donald Sutherland is actually pretty good as the evil President Stone, and Bill Nighy is charming as usual in a dual role here as Dr. Elefun and one of the goofy RRF bots.

The content is mild when it comes to language or excessive violence. Although the rating specifies “mild language,” the only thing I noticed was a character said “freaking” (as a substitute for a profanity). Other than that, there was no other language to be concerned with. There’s a slightly creepy scene where a bunch of junky robots start pawing and pulling on Astro when he falls into a junk pile. It’s a brief moment that doesn’t linger too long, however. There’s also an arena scene where Astro has to fight a series of robots that are trying to kill him, and that get be a bit intense at times for some viewers. Overall, the action involves mostly robots versus robots (a la Transformers), but there is some threat presented to humans at times too.

It’s an entertaining film, but by the time the end rolls around, there is a sense that something is lacking from Astro Boy. Perhaps it’s the contrived additional characters or the over-the-top villain found in President Stone, but it certainly isn’t the quality of talent involved in the film. Still, in the end, you get the feeling it could have (and should have) been a lot better. The end is left wide open for a sequel and even the way it’s done (very reminiscent of The Incredibles) gives me some anticipation for a new adventure from Astro Boy. I think, now that the origin story is out of the way, it may make a stronger sequel even done with a good script (but its total take at the box office was under $20 million, so it’s most likely that this franchise has been disessembled before it even hit DVD).

Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Blu-Ray version of Astro Boy doesn’t skimp on the goods. First of all, as mentioned in the film review, the picture is fantastic. The colors are vibrant and the detail is wonderful. This is definitely a great looking high definition release. The special features, although not many, are perfect for fans of the film or the Astro Boy character in general.

Inside The Recording Booth (10:23) – If you’ve read other animated film reviews from me, you know I’m a fan of featurettes that take you behind the scenes to hear from the voice cast of the feature film. Astro Boy gets a fair treatment here with a ten minute “Inside The Recording Booth” featurette that lets us hear from Nicolas Cage, Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Matt Lucas, Eugene Levy, and Nathan Lane as they talk about their characters and even their own personal love for the original Astro Boy series. It’s a really great inside look, and we even get screen / studio session comparisons of Freddie recording his voice for Astro.

Designing A Hero (10:42) – Freddie provides an introduction to this 10 minute featurette which has Character Designer Luis Grane show us how to draw Astro Boy by hand ourselves. It’s a pretty cool little added bonus. We then get an insight into how they take the concept from idea to the big screen with the Production Designer and the Art Director for the film.

Building Metro City (7:36) – Freddie returns to take us through a tour of the design of Metro City, along with the designers and animators who were involved in the film’s production. Here we see test footage compared with the final footage, also with a detailed look at what makes Metro City so futuristic compared to the more rundown appearance of the locations back on planet Earth. It’s a fun, deeper look into the make-up of the two worlds.

Astro Boy Image Gallery: Creating a Global Icon (4:59) – This is exactly what it sounds like – an image gallery. It starts out with “The Beginning,” showing a series of images throughout the history of the Astro Boy character. This is cool because I have no history with the character myself, so it’s neat to watch its evolution over time. “Promotional Imagery” shows posters for this feature film, starting with the Japanese versions, then moving on to international versions, U.S. concept posters (that weren’t used, but pretty cool), and then the final posters. Next is the “Movie Character Development” for Astro, then “Character Sketches” which are hand drawn concepts of the film’s characters. We then get a closer look at the development of “Peacekeeper” and “ZOG” (why there weren’t more for other characters, I don’t know?). Lastly, we get the “Story of Astro Boy Through Color Keys” which is a panel by panel telling of the film’s story through key moments in the movie done in a stylized painted 2D fashion.

Getting The Astro Boy Look (2:50) – This video takes us to a promotional event where fans took their kids to get their hair styled like Astro Boy. A hairdresser even gives simple step-by-step instructions on how fans watching the video can do their hair like Astro’s at home. It actually sort of doubles as a commercial for a hair gel product.

Astro Boy VS The Junkyard Pirates (3:32) – This is a brand new animated short that has Astro and the Earth kids encountering Junkyard Pirates while looking for scraps in the junkyard. It’s kind of a throwaway scene, but anyone hungry for more Astro action might enjoy this little tidbit.

The RRF In New Recruit (1:12) – This is an incredibly short bit that has the RRF trio trying to recruit ZOG for their cause. It’s more amusing than the previous short, but almost too short to warrant even including, really. But again, if anyone wants anything new in addition to the movie, it’s nice they included this.

Astro Boy translates well to the high definition format and anyone who enjoyed the film will undoubtedly love this home video treatment. If you haven’t seen the movie yet but are interested in checking out, I recommend renting it first before jumping at buying it.
John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/29/10)

Parental Guide: Content Summary
. Sex/Nudity:
We see Astro Boy in just shorts and boots a few times; Astro flies over a woman sun tanning in a bikini and the flames from his boots instantly gives her a tan (much to her delight)
. Vulgarity/Language:
. Alcohol/Drugs:
. Blood/Gore:
. Violence:
Lots of action violence. A large robot gets trapped in a room with Toby and ends up trying to obliterate a shield that’s trapping it in, but only vaporizes Toby; Astro fights a group of robot ships trying to capture him (and saves a robot pilot from harm); A group of rusted, deteriorating robots paw at Astro to try to get parts from him; A man tazes Astro, paralyzing him. We see this done later as well; Astro has to fight a series of robots that are trying to kill him, so he destroys them in self defense; A huge robot tries to squash a human who is the ringleader for the robots trying to kill Astro, but Astro stops the huge robot; A man activates the Peacekeeper which then sucks him up as well as all kinds of robots and space ships to grow very huge. The Peacekeeper then destroys various buildings in an attempt to get Astro Boy. There’s lots of destruction and action violence here. (SPOILER: Astro dies at one point, but is resurrected)

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