Welcome to the newest installation of computer-generated animation.
Recall the 1980s when American kids would gather around the television to watch Astro Boy, a popular crossover series from Japan that featured a little robot boy with a heart of gold and the ability to kick some poetic justice.
Decades later, Astro Boy is back with a modern twist. But whether or not the new-and-improved Astro has enough strength to maintain the series’ staying power is questionable.
Released by Summit Entertainment, the same production company that created us the Twilight series, Astro Boy attempts to adapt an international anime heavyweight. Considered a pop culture icon in Japan, Astro Boy originated in the 1950s by manga artist Osamu Tezuka and has since gained enormous popularity spawning various television shows throughout the years.
Does the latest installment maintain its level of grandeur?
Astro Boy is set in a place called Metro City, a floating island in the Earth’s atmosphere where the last remnants of human society remain. As a result, robots take care of the needs of the humans left. But no matter how civilized the robots may be, they are treated as second-class citizens with little respect.
The film follows Dr. Tenma, a genius scientist, and his son Toby, who is killed in a tragic accident. In enraged grief, Dr. Tenma creates a robotic version of his son, Astro, that happens to have the latest installment of modern defense technologies. But Dr. Tenma realizes that no one, not even a loveable, incredibly life-like robot made out of purely blue positive energy can replace his son, and he exiles Astro. This is quite a blow to Astro, who believes he is human. Outcast, he meets other characters that help him appreciate friendship as well as his own identity.
The film’s animation is stellar — that much is undeniable. Once you enter into the world of Astro Boy, the audience is thrust into the next generation of animation and some of the images are so incredibly colorful they become somewhat reminiscent of psychedelia.
But while the awe-inspiring and sometimes just-darn-cute animation is an added plus, the dialogue is, well, a little too G-rated. Though at times the story is clever enough to entertain an adult, at others it can be enough to make the same adult cringe from the over-simplified dialogue. It drags on a little too long at moments and struggle to achieve the balance between loveably campy and moronically simple.
While the cast is made up of many big names, including Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy and Nicolas Cage, it seems that in this case names can either be a plus or a big giant minus. And if you replace big giant minus with Nicolas Cage that’s exactly what you get.
Ah, Nic Cage. Though it appears he did genuinely have talent at some point (evident from his possession of an Oscar), he has once again proved himself wrong.
His performance, which is usually painful enough with his actual appearance on screen, becomes excruciating in animated form when his emotionless line delivery isn’t paired up with an empty blank stare. Let’s just say that in the pivotal scene of his son’s death his delivery of, “Where’s my son?” could have very well been replaced with, “Where’s the pizza?”
The film does have its flaws, but it doesn’t fall completely flat. Overall, the film has a decent story line and interesting characters. Freddie Highmore’s performance of Astro is delightful and inviting, while comic relief comes in the form of Bell’s Cora as well as Lane’s Ham Egg. But perhaps the best performance comes from Dr. Elefun. It is no easy feat to communicate emotion solely through the use of your voice, but Nighy’s performance was so genuine that at times it was easy to forget it was coming out of a cartoon character.
Though Astro Boy is an enjoyable romp through colorful computer animation, one can’t help but wonder if a makeover of this beloved character and series was necessary. Some things are simply better left untouched.