Movie Review: Astro Boy

Astro Boy
Directed by David Bowers
Featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Freddie Highmore
Written by David Bowers and Timothy Harris
Release Date: October 23, 2009

I learned several things Saturday morning when I watched Astro Boy. For one thing, when watching a cartoon movie, one should expect a sea of crying, whispering, and gurgling children no matter what time the movie starts. Another thing I learned, and this one is pretty important for me, is that no matter how old I get, it is nice to know that I still can be affected by a cartoon that has heart.

Astro Boy, based on the popular Japanese anime Mighty Atom, tells the tale of Tobie Tenama (Freddie Highmore). Tobie is caught in a middle of dangerous science experiment conducted by his father Dr. Bill Tenama (Nicolas Cage) and is killed instantly. Dr. Tenama is devastated and in his sorrow, he creates an exact robotic copy of his boy. Thus, Astro Boy is born.

Now a fair warning to those who are familiar with the anime: I had no prior knowledge of the anime before I stepped into the movie. After watching the movie though, I did Google it and discovered that, despite some tweaks to the characters involved and some additional supporting characters, the story is a pretty faithful retelling of the Japanese Anime.

Astro’s original is intact, as are the characters he encounters, such as robot collector Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) and Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy). Even the scene involving Dr. Tenama’s rejection of the boy once he realizes the robot is not really his boy no matter how much he looks like him remains in the story. I was actually pretty shocked by the somewhat adult tone that scene took, along with some other topics of the movie. I wondered how I might have reacted to something like that had I been a small child, but I think back to a movie like a Bambi and realize that children are really a lot stronger than we give them credit for.

I give a lot of credit to the writers David Bowers and Timothy Harris. They could have sanitized a lot of the adult topics that were introduced in the anime but instead opted to tweak some of the ideas to maintain the anime’s essence. They also get some nice points for not making the dialogue overtly simplistic or go straight for the bodily functions humor. I know the kids love the fart jokes but I am sure the parents of these kids wouldn’t mind seeing less of them. Above all else, the characters a written very well and you actually feel for the characters. When it appears that one of the characters might bite the big one, I admit, I got a little misty eyed. The characters feel real and because of this you feel real emotion for them.

Big name actors like Nicolas Cage and Donald Sutherland do what they get paid for their respective roles but I can’t help but feel it is all for naught. As a moviegoer, I always found big movie stars lending their voices to cartoons as weird. I am not sure anyone at this point cares who is lending their voice to which character. If the cartoon keeps our attention, we will watch it, no matter who voices the characters. (Although in hindsight, I think this is one of the few Cage movies that he has done that I have actually liked).

The CG animation is very pretty to look at and has come a long way from when it first came out in the late 90’s. While it is a cut above the rest, it doesn’t really hold much of a candle to the kind of stuff Pixar does. Though, if you are a kid, I don’t think any of that would matter. They would just like to be entertained for an hour and a half.

If you are a parent, I think that Astro Boy is right for your kids. It is kid friendly enough for your young one but just edgy enough for you to enjoy as well. Fans of the old anime series would not be disappointed either. The creators of this version have enough love for it to make a pretty decent movie for anyone to watch. So while Astro Boy is not out of this world great visually, it is definitely a movie that doesn’t disappoint.

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