The Sci-Fi Chronicles book has been a lot of fun so far, and it’s also introduced me to a lot of things I was aware of, but had never seen. Astro Boy is a prime example, I have been aware of Osamu Tezuka’s manga for a long time, I’ve always recognized the character, but never once came across the original cartoon series, or any of the manga upon which the series was based. So I was quite eager to take a look at the 2009 version, which would serve as my introduction the character.
Astro Boy is a star-studded animated film, and most of the stars are perfectly cast, with perhaps the exception of Dr. Tenma, who is voiced by Nicolas Cage, there’s just no way to separate the actor from his voice. The rest of the cast is rounded out with Freddie Highmore as Astro Boy, Charlize Theron as a narrator, Ryan Stiles and Eugene Levy as robots, Donald Sutherland as nefarious President Stone, Bill Nighy as Dr. Elefun, Kristen Bell as Cora, and David Alan Grier with Alan Tudyk as a pair of cleaning robots.
Merto City is a megalopolis floating above the ruins of Earth, everything seems peaceful and calm, there are robots to do all manner of tasks, and life is pretty easy for its residents, unlike those who have scraped out a living on the surface. Despite this, President Stone has started fear-mongering and is trying to escalate Metro City to a state of war with the surface, and the new robot that Dr. Tenma has created, the Peacekeeper, may just be the key to doing that.
During the Peacekeeper demonstration, young Toby (Highmore) is trapped inside with the robot, and dies in an explosion. Dr. Tenma is devastated, and with the help of Dr. Elefun, creates the perfect robotic boy to take the place of Toby. But when the robot is activated, despite the fact that he has all of Toby’s memories, the robot is very much his own being, and doesn’t understand why his father won’t accept him as he is… until he discovers that he is a robot, a fantastic robot with all manner of abilities.
When he is forced to leave his home, he makes his way to the planet’s surface, taking the name Astro Boy, where the surviving humans take delight in gladiatorial games between robots. Lying about who he is, he makes friends with Cora and a ragged band of kids, who, upon discovering who he really is, re-evaluate their opinion of robots, and life.
But before the adventure is through, he’ll have to face off against President Stone, and hopefully unite the peoples of Metro City and the surface.
This ended up being a pretty enjoyable film, there is lots going on, and it seems to try to walk the line between goofy family comedy, and some darker, heavier material, dealing with the loss of loved ones, keeping them alive in our memories, and of course, the creation of weapons to make war, when one doesn’t exist.
As such, it comes across as a bit of a mixed bag, so it’s easy to see why it didn’t have the success one would expect from a family film. Still, for me, it was a good introduction the character, and may lead me to hunt down some of the little robot’s previous adventures.