Monday, November 23, 2009

Astro Boy

We go from one mediocre animated movie to one that borders on abysmal. I have a number of issues with this movie. I'm disappointed with both how it was done and what they turned the classic character into. Most important, however, the movie itself was simply poorly done. It was poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly directed.

A little history is in order at this point. Astro Boy began its life as a Japanese manga in the 50's, then quickly expanded into a television show in the 60's, possibly the first anime. It also went through several more iterations over the following decades. I hate to be one of those fanboys complaining about how something is updated and doesn't follow the old way (especially because I'm not an Astro Boy fan), but my first issue is that they did the movie with 3D aimation. I understand that things need to be updated, but that simply removes it too far from its roots. Astro Boy had potential to bring the manga aesthetic to the screen, but instead ended up looking like just another generic 3D movie. In addition to the watering down of the aesthetic, they watered it down thematically. Traditionally, Astro Boy is pretty dark. I mean for crying out loud, the title character is a robot made by a grieving scientist after his son died. Though this remains the same for the movie, it's somehow lost all of its edge. The dark themes are watered down by a very happy-go-lucky aesthetic.

Astro Boy doesn't stop at butchering a classic character. The acting is awful. I never thought there could be anything more rigid than Nicholas Cage as an actor, but I was wrong. Nicholas Cage as a voice actor is even worse. Nathan Lane as Ham Egg, the impoverished robot tinkerer that takes Astro in as part of his family, is one of the few shining spots in acting. But still, he was never anything but Nathan Lane just playing Ham Egg. I never got lost in any of the characters. Perhaps the truely funny moments came with the Robot Liberation Front, a band of 3 inept robots trying to start a revolution. During these scenes the comedic timing was spot on, and I would have sworn these actors were channeling the likes of John Cleese or Michael Palin. Sadly, these moments were rarities.

This may be a little more harsh than this movie deserves. It wasn't necessarily bad. I can see it appealing to kids who may identify with Astro Boy. Themes of fitting in are prevalent, and may ring true with certain age groups. The movie touches on everything from class and generational differences, to whether robots can feel like humans (clearly embodying that idea of fitting in). Perhaps the reason I found this movie so poor is that it was a missed opportunity. It could have been something special, but instead is just another generic, sterile, 3D movie. A re imaging of a classic manga character should not have been reduced to this.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You couldn't be more wrong about this film. I've read Tezuka's manga, and I'm realistic enough to understand that Astro's character and story had to be updated and adapted to the 21st century. And Imagi Studios did a fantastic job. The animation is superb, the equal of Pixar, the design of the characters and backgrounds are a loving homage to the manga and Astro's design in particular is appealing, the voice acting is top notch, especially Freddie Highmore as Astro (his nuanced performance is Oscar-worthy), the music is beautiful, and the script is sharp, warm and witty. Does the "Elitist" in your blog name refer to the tiresome belief that if a CGI film isn't produced by Pixar, it reeks? At any rate, this film got a B+ at the Yahoo movies board, so I guess that means that ordinary folk aren't elitist enough to turn up their noses on a film as good as "Astro Boy". I had no idea what to expect when I saw this movie, but I loved it, my friends all loved it, and every kid I know who saw it loves it. In truth it's an under-appreciated gem akin to "The Iron Giant". Sorry you didn't like it, but it sounds like you had a chip on your shoulder before you even gave it a chance. It's awesome. End of story.