In 1952 pioneering animator Osamu Tezuka’s manga series ignited a cultural phenomenon in Japan that has now reached worldwide acclaim: anime. Astro is a beloved pop culture figure that is finally getting wider recognition with younger audiences thanks to 2009’s feature film Astro Boy. Set in a future where Earth has endured years of abuse and pollution, one city decided to improve their quality of life. Metro City hovers far above Earth’s surface, but shares little similarities. Robots have been designed to take over the menial, mundane jobs they can’t be bothered to do themselves.
The father of those creations is scientist Dr. Tenma, voiced by Nicolas Cage. His brilliance in the field of robotics doesn’t make up for his shortcomings as a parent to his son Toby. Despite being a mature and remarkable student, Toby never quite receives the warm encouragement from his dad he craves. When a meeting with President Stone, a no-nonsense military man desperately seeking re-election, goes horribly awry, Toby is killed, leaving nothing but a red ball cap behind. Dr. Tenma attempts to resurrect the spirit of his departed son through a new life-like robot: Astro Boy.
Though he has all the characteristics of a benevolent human, he’s still a highly evolved machine—a fact that is especially intriguing for Stone, voiced by Donald Sutherland. When Stone learns of the robo-boy’s wondrous capabilities, he orders his capture through force if necessary. After a harrowing chase through Metro City’s skies, Astro plummets to Earth and encounters a group of junk-sifting kids curious to learn more about this strange visitor. They introduce him to Hamegg, a former researcher at the Ministry of Science where Toby’s father works who’s taken refuge on Earth and spends his time restoring rusty robots. Hamegg is not who he seems, however, and his true intentions are soon revealed to everyone’s horror. Hamegg’s seedy, scum-bag demeanor is perfectly portrayed through the voice talents of Nathan Lane.
Once his whereabouts on Earth are located by President Stone, Astro is abducted and brought back to Metro City to face his fate: the removal of the blue core that powers him. Stone’s refusal to allow his re-election plans to be thwarted results in a disastrous and ill-informed misuse of power that—you guessed it—only our pint-sized hero can resolve.
I appreciated how, on the surface, Astro Boy has all the bells and whistles of a kid-friendly animated blockbuster. Yet, there’s a lot more going on here. The sharp script takes minor jabs at consumerism and human dependency on technology while also juggling some political undertones. I was much more entertained than I thought I would be, and even if you’ve never heard of Astro Boy you can find something to relate here. If not, you could always sit back and marvel at the gorgeously executed animation.
Astro Boy is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The vast array of colors, Metro City architecture, gorgeous futuristic Earth landscapes and textures really translate well onto the small screen. Visually, this is a stunning film.
Audio is presented in English and Spanish versions of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Composer John Ottman’s lively soundtrack charges, rumbles and booms through the speakers for an entertaining and impressive experience. I especially enjoyed the various mechanical whirrings and whizzings that brought Astro Boy and his fellow robotic pals to life.
Inside the Recording Booth: (10:17) The numerous character voices behind Astro Boy share their thoughts on being a part of the phenomenon.
Designing a Hero: (10:37) Animators describe the process of creating the look of Astro Boy through colors.
Building Metro City: (7:31) Head animator Tim Cheung gives a tour of animation studio Imagi in Hong Kong. Various animators also describe the production design of the film’s two main landscapes: Metro City and Earth.
Astro Boy Image Gallery: Creating a Global Icon: (4:55) A slideshow of images from Astro’s past and present including early design sketches, character sketches from the film, promotional images and artist renderings.
Getting the Astro Boy Look: (2:45) A goofy guide to styling your hair like the ‘toon hero.
There are also two new animated sequences: Astro vs. The Junkyard Pirates (3:28) and The RRF In: The New Recruit (1:07).
Imagi Studios’ team of animators managed to bring Osamu Tezuka’s concept to life in a world of vibrant colors, richly detailed scenery, and compelling action sequences. But this film is more than just captivating eye candy; it’s got a lot of heart and wit. Combine that with an impressive list of voice talents, and Astro Boy has all the winning components of a well-oiled cinematic machine.