tek's rating:

Astro Boy (PG)
Endgame Ent.; Imagi Studios; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; Google Play; Hulu; iTunes; Vudu; YouTube

Caution: spoilers.

This is a 2009 American-made (well, Hong Kong-animated) CGI adaptation of the seminal Japanese manga and anime Astro Boy. While I'm not as familiar with the original series as I'd like to be, I know it well enough to recognize some similarities and differences between that and this. The basic premise is the same, wherein a scientist named Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage), head of the Ministry of Science, has a son named Toby (Freddie Highmore), who dies. One difference is that Toby actually gets more screen time in the movie than he did in the series, so we get to know and actually care about him, before his death. The way he dies is also considerably different, here, more dramatic, and more crucial to the plot. But after his death, Tenma becomes obsessed with creating a robot (also voiced by Highmore) to replace his son, and subsequently decides he doesn't want the robot, after all. That's the same as in the series. There's also another scientist named Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy), who is much more caring and sensible than Tenma, also as in the series. Although here, Elefun has a much smaller role than he did in the series.

Also, there is a city that floats on an island above the clouds, called Metro City. I'm pretty sure that was different from the series. The movie is set in a future where the inhabitants of Metro City have all their needs taken care of by robots. And they have no idea what things are like on the surface of the planet, which they abandoned a hundred years earlier, when they moved their city into the sky. They wanted no part of all the pollution and whatnot, but they end up adding to the surface pollution by simply dumping their garbage (mostly broken robots) off the edge of the island, to fall to the ground.

Anyway, there's this guy named President Stone (Donald Sutherland), who is seeking reelection, but his approval rating sucks. And it's obvious that everything he tries to do to increase his popularity is just going to make him less popular with voters, but of course he doesn't see that. He wants to start a war with the surface, though it's unclear why he thinks this will make him more popular. It's also unclear why the military gets such a huge chunk of the budget, since there are no apparent enemies to Metro City. But it's a plot device, so just go with it. Um... there are these two power cores, a positive blue one and a negative red one, and after a tragic mishap with the red core, the blue one is used to power the robot Tenma creates to replace Toby. And when Stone realizes this, he wants to capture the robot and take the core back, for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, the robot boy, who has all of the real Toby's memories, struggles to deal with the discovery that he's not real, and his "father" doesn't want him anymore. And he ends up on the surface, where he meets a group of orphans, including a girl named Cora (Kristen Bell), who scavenge old robot parts from the junk piles beneath Metro City, bringing the parts back to a man named Hamegg (Nathan Lane), who used to be a scientist in Metro City, himself. There is also a trio of buffoonish robots called the RRF (Robot Revolution Front), who want to free all robots from their slavery to humans. They meet the robot boy, and give him the name Astro. Astro spends most of his time on the surface with the orphans, becoming friends with them, but they don't realize he's a robot. There's also a sort of robotic dog that's actually a trash can, which wants to let the kids know the truth about Astro, but of course it can only bark. Astro intends to tell them eventually, but... he wants them to get to know him first, so they can accept him for who he is instead of what he is. There's actually a pretty major subtext in the movie about human racism toward robots, though for the most part it's played to comic effect instead of taken seriously. With Astro being almost the only exception. His story is actually more serious, and tragic.

I don't want to give away any plot twists or how it all ends, but I actually thought it was a pretty good movie. It had a fairly old-fashioned sensibility, which at times seems kind of corny, but... not as old-fashioned as the original series, obviously, which probably wasn't as old-fashioned when it was new, in the 1950s and 60s. But anyway... the point is, the movie has a more modern tone than the manga and anime, but still not quite the kind of thing modern audiences would be used to. Anyway, I did think some parts of the movie were pretty funny, but mostly background gags, as opposed to the main humor. And of course there were plenty of battles between Astro and other robots as well as the military. And there were some tearjerking moments, some heartwarming moments, some potentially complex moral issues (which weren't really explored as well as they could have been). And probably some things didn't make much sense, if you think about it. But basically... a decent movie, which I feel deserved to be a lot more successful than it was. (Because it was pretty unsuccessful, financially and critically.)

CGI index