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A Charming Modern Day Treatment of a Classic Franchise

  • Nov 22, 2010

When you think of robot-based computer generated features, Pixar’s Wall-E and Blue Sky’s Robots are probably the first two to come to mind.  However, amidst the tidal waves of hype surrounding those motion pictures, Imagi Animation Studios (the guys responsible for 2007’s TMNT) quietly brought Astro Boy on the scene in 2009.  It was a big budget CG incarnation of the long-running Japanese series of the same name and, in this reviewer’s opinion, perhaps the best the genre has to offer.

Astro Boy, for those who don’t already know, first appeared in a manga way back in 1952! There have been a whole plethora of anime incarnations throughout the subsequent decades of varying degrees of success but this CG piece has been well over a decade in the making itself; beginning back in 1999 when Sony purchased the film rights to Astro Boy from Osamu Tezuka Productions.  The plan then was to create a CG/ live action hybrid for a Holiday of 2000 release (under Jim Henson Productions).  Obviously, that plan fell to the wayside and alternate ambitions surfaces multiple times (at one point nearly securing Pixar’s Brad Bird as director).

In the end Astro Boy came into fruition under the direction of Flushed Away’s David Bowers for an estimated $50-million budget (that sadly recovered only about half that amount at present).  It hit Japanese theaters October 10, 2009, then made its USA debut very shortly thereafter on October 23, 2009 and finally crossed the pond once more to the UK on February 5, 2010.  It earned a stateside DVD & Blu-Ray release on March 16, 2010 by Summit Entertainment.

The story goes something like this: In the future earth’s polluted, overpopulated mess leads to one city’s decision to go skyward- literally.  Metro City, the metropolis surrounding Mount Sofia, a land dependent upon robots to handle day-to-day existence, uses powerful repelling technology to literally float in the clouds high above the mess that earth has become.

The viewer is introduced to Toby Tenma (voiced by Freddie Highmore) fairly early on, son of the famous Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicolas Cage).  A prodigal child, the young boy rarely gets to spend time with his father.  Toby visits his father's workplace, the Ministry of Science to witness President Stone’s (voiced by Donald Sutherland) debut of the Peacekeeper, a robot sentry that is the culmination of adaptive technology in combat applications.

An accident on the scene results in Toby’s untimely demise and the heartbroken Dr. Tenma begins an ambitious undertaking like none before; he builds a robotic chassis and implants it with the memories of deceased child, taken from a DNA sample within Toby’s hair.

Tragically it doesn’t take long for Tenma to realize his robot son is not an exact duplicate of the boy he lost.  Convinced the only thing left to do would be to shut the robot down permanently, Tenma inadvertently crushes the robot’s will and causes his decision to run away from home.

Only after ending up on the junk-pile surface of the planet and being taken in by a ragtag group of young humans can Toby discover the true capabilities of his new body and the potential within that transforms him from the mere memory of Toby Tenma into the hero Astro.

The scope of the film is marvelous through and through with direction that captures the subtle tragedy on which this franchise is based without discounting the action-heavy segments laced throughout.  Legit comparisons can be made to tales like Edward Scissorhands and Pinocchio in terms of emotional depth/ connection without ever sacrificing its own originality.

Some fans of the earlier animated efforts have voiced concern over deviations made from the source material but I am a subscriber to the theory that it’s almost requisite to view this piece as a stand-alone effort as the vast majority of today’s movie going target audience would be too young to remember earlier incarnations, not to mention the writers have had to condense a tale some 58-years in the making into 94-minutes.  All factors considering, Imagi does a wonderful job in capturing the charm and timelessness of the franchise.

About my only complaint to report in an otherwise glowing review, would be that Astro Boy may actually be a bit too emotionally demanding for the younger kids who are usually drawn into this type of animated film.  Make no mistake; even the death of the title character is handled completely without violence or gore (going as far as to have Toby vaporized here opposed to dying in a car wreck like the original), there is still some more heart-heavy themes here than a lot of what comes out of Pixar or DreamWorks.

The vocal cast deserves praise as well, perhaps most noteworthy being Freddie Highmore’s delivery as Astro and Bill Nighy’s near subliminally smooth portrayal of the good-hearted Dr. Elefun.  Although Charlize Theron, Kristen Bell, Donald Sutherland, and Eugene Levy are no slouches either! I can’t even complain about the usually drab Nicolas Cage’s interpretation of Toby’s despondent father.

In all to say I was surprised about Astro Boy’s charm would be putting it very lightly.  Summit Entertainment has nowhere near the promotional pull of Disney, DreamWorks, Sony or Universal so it’s quite unlikely Astro Boy will never receive the publicity it deserves.  However, the few members of the populous who do experience this one are bound to come away impressed.

A Charming Modern Day Treatment of a Classic Franchise A Charming Modern Day Treatment of a Classic Franchise A Charming Modern Day Treatment of a Classic Franchise A Charming Modern Day Treatment of a Classic Franchise

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November 23, 2010
Nice review, Jason! Glad you liked it! Great commentary about the emotions, it may be too complex for kids and too easy for adults. I guess in a way, they wanted to charm both.....I do have to admit there is a lot of heart here, may be a little cliched--but it does have a lot of warmth.
November 23, 2010
Excellent review as always good Sir, I have heard different things about this film. Sounds good here, great job.
November 23, 2010
FM_A: Definitely give it a rental if nothing else. It's got more heart than a lot of the big budget supposed "blockbusters". My girl said it was powerful enough to warrant tears at times and she's super critical of these pieces.
More Astro Boy (movie) reviews
review by . March 21, 2010
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Japan's Classic
   Those who are familiar with Japanese anime and manga would no doubt be familiar with ASTRO BOY (aka. Tetsuwan Atomu) since the character has been around since 1954. The character appeared in a series of anime and manga by Osamu Tezuka that maintains a ‘cutesy’ look to attract its intended audience. This film directed by David Bowers is a CGI animated film made by Imagi animation studios and Summit Entertainment in the U.S., and while “Astro Boy” may be huge …
review by . April 21, 2010
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How Adorable I Found This Movie
I've only ever really heard of Astro Boy on a whim as it's one of those cartoon legends that you've always heard about but never really seen or paid any close attention to. Now I only decided to watch this movie out of pure boredom as I had rented it through and it had been sitting on my TV unit for about two weeks, so I guessed that before I returned it I should at least check it out. I honestly didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did, not for any particular comic or action …
review by . November 03, 2009
I took my 5 year old son to this movie and very much enjoyed it. I understand there is a history behind this charater but did not know that going into the movie. For a kids movie I did not see the need to KILL the main character in the beginning of the movie.  If you can get past the sad at the beginning of UP then this is no problem.      Beyond that this was a fun amazing movie that has my 5 year old talking about making robots and now wants to be a mechanical engineer. …
review by . January 31, 2010
Anyone Can Find a Place In Life, and This Movie Will Show That.
   This movie reminds me of the movie Iron man, but the difference is that this boy is the exact duplicate of the 1960’s version of the cartoon Astro Boy. This is an animated movie that takes place in a place called Metro City; this city floats above the surface of the main planet and everyone in this city thinks that they are better than everyone on the surface planet.       This starts out with a little boys’ (voice of Freddie Highmore) interest in his …
review by . October 26, 2009
AstroBoy 2009 Film
If you go into AstroBoy without knowing a great deal about the history of the original and its creator, then you may find this remake to be Pinocchio 2.0. You also might find the up-and-down-and-up-again mood swings of AstroBoy and his human friends to be typical of kid oriented movies. Fortunately, AstroBoy comes with a history that, if audiences are aware of, brings much needed richness to the film.      AstroBoy, originally called "Tetsuwan Atomu" or "The Mighty …
Quick Tip by . January 31, 2010
This is an excellent movie that you and your child would love.
review by . October 25, 2009
For many people in America Astro Boy is either remembered as an old sixties show or the first anime to air on American TV. In Japan Astro Boy is far more important to their culture. Not only was it the first real success to come from legendary comic artist Osamu Tezuka, but it pretty much launched the manga and anime industry, which Japan’s economy is based so heavily on now. Astro Boy is to Japan what Mickey Mouse is to America. Japan loves him so much that they even made the boy a Japanese …
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Ranked #2
Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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About this movie


An origin story set in the futuristic Metro City, Astro Boy is about a robot (Freddie Highmore) with many powers, created by the grieving scientist Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage), in the image of his son, Toby, who died in an accident. Unable to fulfill the fathers' expectations, the robot embarks on a journey in search of acceptance, becoming part of a group of rowdy kids on the surface world below the floating city. There he meets a girl named Cora (Kristen Bell) and inadvertently becomes part of a world of robot gladiators led by the greedy, Fagin-like ringmaster Hamegg (Nathan Lane), before he returns to save Metro City from the evil president's (Donald Sutherland) renegade giant robot, and reconcile with the father who had rejected him.
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Genre: Action, Family, Animation, Adventure
Release Date: October 23rd, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Summit Entertainment
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