Monday, October 26, 2009

Ninjatron Reviews the Astro Boy Movie

Ok, here we go! This will be my attempt at an all inclusive review of Imagi's Astro Boy movie. Be warned, it contains spoilers!

It's been a very unique feeling having followed this film for several years, to work hard in documenting and share all the information with the rest of the world, to see the film released, and to have to try and sum it all up. It's like this is a new chapter: Life after the release of The Astro Boy movie. It's a lot to chew on when thinking about it that way, but I will do my best to condense my thoughts into something coherent.

That all said, I really liked it!

Clearly, I was quite emotionally invested in this movie before seeing it, both as the keeper of this website and as an Anime fan who understands the importance of this character. So I knew that I wanted to like it, but this could mean that it would either make me really enjoy it or make me like it less because of my expectations and how much I already knew from following the film for long. However, it didn't take long for the film to cast its spell on me and make any preconceived notions go away.

Here is what I liked about it.

- The story itself worked well. It was quite faithful to the original manga. Yes, there were differences, but I'd say that it was as faithful to its source as a movie like Spider-man was to the comics. Even though I knew the story, there were still enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. The bit at the end with Zog using the blue energy to revive Astro was a great surprise and a nice touch.

- The animation is, of course, really beautiful. I can't wait to see it again and dig through all of the details I missed the first time around. The scene of Astro flying through the clouds was breathtaking. I'd go on but it all sort of goes without saying in a movie like this. However, what really stood out to me was the opening "Our Friends The Robots" animation, with it's flat, graphic style. Did this not remind anyone else of the imagery found in Tezuka's "Tales of a Street Corner"? That can't be a coincidence!

- Nicolas Cage as Dr. Tenma worked well for me. I know his performance has gotten some flack, but I thought it was fine. When Tenma brings Astro back to their home and does his overcompensating father routine, that slightly creepy/crazy twist to the performance was just perfect. That moment is exactly why I think Nic Cage was the right choice for the role.

- President Stone was so evil! I was totally blown away by this character. I admit that in the previews, I didn't buy it. I had thought Donald Sutherland's voice just was just too warm and friendly, not nearly villainous enough. I was wrong. Everything he said just made him into a bigger scumbag, and he saw it all as positive qualities. He was so bad, and proud of it!

- Nathan Lane was great as Hamegg, both as a friendly character and as his usual dastardly self. I was disappointed at first that he was depicted as being rather plump instead of his traditional skinny appearance, but now that I think about it, he looked more jolly and friendly in the movie, which makes his turn against Astro more surprising and effective. I don't think it would have worked with a skinny Hamegg. He might have appeared too sinister right away.

- Cora and the other kids were actually pretty cool. I know Cora was meant to be a new character, but I see her as the movie's interpretation of the character Kathy, who met Astro at a similar point in the story. One thing I really liked about the kids was that they had very unique faces.

- The music was amazing. I can still hear it in my mind as I type this. I miss the old Astro Boy theme but what we have here is pure gold.

- The Robot Revolutionary Front. These guys were hilarious. They quickly became my favorite characters... and then they mentioned about ninjas. I got a personal kick out of that for obvious reasons. Wonder if I had something to do with it being in there?

- And of course, we have Astro himself. I think they found the perfect balance between the traditional goody-two shoes Astro and the expectations of modern audiences. The part when he says goodbye to Dr. Elefun really stuck with me. Such a beautifully sad moment.

I could go on. There are a lot of little moments and touches and details that I enjoyed.

But, that all said, it wasn't perfect, and there was one thing that really bothered me about the film. It was very fast paced. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but in a movie with so many emotional components, I feel that it would have really helped to just take a breather at some key scenes and let the emotions gestate for a beat before moving on.

- Early in the film there is a scene where Toby and Tenma's holographic projection share a perfectly awkward moment in the car. It was just a second or two, but it worked well and helped to say everything we needed to know about how those characters felt at that time. There could have been a few more moments like that throughout the film.

- We don't really get to see Tenma's transition from losing his son to deciding to build a robot. It just abruptly goes to unrolling the blueprints. I would have liked to have seen more of his state of mind at that juncture in the film, and for the actually building of the robot to have been a longer, more laborious looking procedure. It could have been a montage or something, but still, it would have been great to see more of this as I feel the film just jumped to the completed Astro too fast. All we really get of that is when it's said that Tenma hasn't slept for days.

- The alien invasion at the end was pretty random! I have no problem with that as such, since aliens are awesome, but I still feel that there was a beat missing, especially since this happens directly after the climax with the Peacekeeper. Perhaps the film could jumped to an in-session press conference happening a few days later, featuring new president Logan talking about what the future holds for the now-grounded Metro City, acknowledging Astro for saving the day, and ushering in a new era for robot civil rights. And then this could have been interrupted by the alien invasion. Not to say that I could have done a better job, but still, there was a missed opportunity to flesh out the story, add some closure, and give the movie-going audience a chance to gain some emotional resonance before throwing the space-tentacle monster at us.

That all said, this is a long movie already. Especially considering it's a kids' movie. Where would you fit any of this stuff in? I don't know. There's a lot of content in there already, so maybe what I suggested isn't possible. But I just like movies that pace themselves and let the events unfold over a what seems like significant amount of time.

Aside from that, there are some silly things I have to wonder about.

- When Toby gets vaporized, all that's left is his hat. But the rest of his clothes are gone. How did his hat remain unscathed? I guess it was a thicker material.

- And if Toby's clothes got destroyed, then I guess Dr. Tenma must have rushed out and bought exactly the same clothes all over again, because when I was 13 I most certainly did not own two sets of the exact same outfit. That's kind of weird.

- It's made into a big deal that Astro can hear the window washing robots, but everyone could communicate with Orrin just fine. I don't remember the movie presenting any distinction between the robots who can talk to humans and robots who only speak robot language.

But none of these things detract from the movie in a major way. It is what it is, and I enjoyed it very much. It's a wonderful film for kids and fans alike. No matter what the critics say, and no matter what the box office numbers wind up as, the cast and crew of this movie should be very proud of themselves for pulling it off.

So, that's my review. Please use the comments feature to tell me what you think about what I had to say, or have any questions. And stay tuned, I'll be giving everyone a chance to post their own reviews very soon!



Mr. Hentai said...

Thanks for the review. Been mulling about, putting off seeing it, but now I feel confident I won't want to kill myself afterwards. Somehow I trust your opinion more than the New York Times on this matter ... :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of your nitpicking, as there are a few issues with the film, but they are rather minor. Overall it's quite good, and worth the wait. I found myself able to really just sit back and enjoy this incarnation of Astro Boy, and appreciate how amazing the visuals are (as well as how emotional the story is). The "professional" reviews may be mixed, and the box office numbers not quite stellar, but the film is a good one. And I would hope that Osamu Tezuka would be proud. :]

Anonymous said...

My only problem with the film was the obvious political references to Presidents Bush and Obama. Very stupid references that take you out of the film and are unworthy of inclusion in any family film, much less Astro Boy. Otherwise I loved this movie. It had real heart, and great fight/flight scenes, and Astro himself is wonderful - courageous and lovable. You can't ask more of a lead character than that.

Mr. Hentai said...

Okay, finally saw it. Certainly, there was a nit or two to be picked, but overall I was quite charmed. I went with an eight-year-old who loves Astro Boy, even though he's only seen a handful of cartoons, and he swooned. & you know what? At the end of the day, I think that's more important than what any middle-aged otaku (like me) thinks. I don't think the "Bush/Obama" references were a problem; considering that Tezuka was an activist cartoonist who often satirized specific political situations and people in his work, it's HIGHLY worthy for Astro Boy. I daresay anybody with a real prob with the veiled references might still have a problem with the confirmed facts that the Bush administration -- as well as many others throughout the world and history -- did in fact use exaggerations and outright lies to whip the voters into a frenzy and get elected for a second term. The subplot sure didn't seem to bother the eight-year-old, but then he's not a registered Republican ... LOL

Cheers to all and go go go ...

Anonymous said...

Well, the political slant in Astro Boy was mentioned in several film critics' reviews, so one may wonder if THAT might have hurt the box office. I remember reading one critic who mentioned the political symbolism of the red and blue cores, and I was appalled. I'd really been looking forward to this movie, and the news about that kind of dumb political proselytizing put a damper on my enthusiasm. Thank god I saw it anyway, but I came very close to giving it a pass.

Plus there's the fact that Mr. Hope and Change is suffering from plunging job approval numbers after less than a year in office. Trying to attach his popularity to Astro Boy - when that popularity is already failing - was a truly dumbass move on the part of the film-makers. That's the trouble when artists try to be too topical; they often wind up fatally dating their creations.

Mr. Hentai said...

Good points, for sure. I do think the Bush contretemps are finished and done, and therefore eligible for evocation. I would agree with you on the Obama thing except I don't think they showed him carrying through on anything, and to be cynical about it, he kinda won by default because his opponent was the villain of the entire piece. :)
Boy, anyone interpreting that red and blue energy as deliberate is really reaching though, I sort of think ... sounds like a little bit of modern-day GOP conspiracy paranoia ... I remember when the Left had the market cornered on those ...

Anyway, yay Astroboy. I do feel the essential point of his character was kept pure enough. Me, I'm dark, and I do regret a little that they happy-ended the relationship between him and Tenma so blithely. Speaking from personal experience, Astro as a fatherless little boy was an important component of his deep psychological resonance to those of us who were children during the dawn of the divorce era in the states, right when the b&w series hit syndication.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the so-called political meaning of the red and blue cores. The critic mentioned it, and for the record, he wasn't the only film critic who did. But when I saw the film, I really didn't see any obvious symbolism. That stuff came in later, unfortunately.

You know what's really interesting is that in the film's trailers, Stone says in one scene: "My army could use a robot like that!" when in the film he actually says something about getting re-elected. Makes me wonder if the people who put together the trailers realized that the political slant might turn some people off, and so they changed the line in the trailer. Too bad the movie's producers didn't change the line in the movie, remove the "It's Not Time For Change" banner, and all the other dumb stuff. Why couldn't they have just made Stone an off-his-nut general who wanted to start a war with the surface dwellers so he could retain his military budget and his position of importance? That would have been just fine.

But I agree with you - yay for Astro Boy. The producers DID develop his personality beautifully in the film - one of many things they got right. One of my friends told me she cried a little when his father rejected him, and later on when he apparently died in the battle with Stone. And that's just a couple of the many ordeals the movie puts poor Astro through. Really, I haven't seen a film that possesses such a heart-tugging emotional center since The Lion King. The movie really grabs you. And I think that kids who see it will remember it for a long long time.

nikkicub said...

Thanks for the review! I agree with you basically across the board. I especially feel that the Tenma/Astro dynamic was better here in the original - Tenma saving and freeing Astro was a very heartwarming scene, the hug there my favorite moment in the movie, and showing that Astro could've gotten free at any time really added to the scene! This was the resolution between the two that I've always wanted.

I do agree with wishing that Stone had been a warmonger general, instead of the obvious political parody here. Or even Hamegg, using old Ministry of Science contacts to take control of Peacekeeper and stage a nasty revolution of his own! I do agree that the Hamegg redesign added a lot to the character, though.

Anyway. Fantastic movie. Can't wait to see it again!

Conan94 said...

Very good review Ninjatron; I enjoy very much reading reviews like yours.

I must apologise for this comment being posted so late, as I had missed the theatrical release of the movie and had to watch it on D.V.D., which was not released in my country (Australia) until April 2010.

I would like now to make a few comments on your review:

1) I would like to note that it is a fairly common misconception that all fat people are good-natured; while this may be true with some fat people, it is not because of their obesity. This, I think, may be the reason why Hamegg was made to be slightly plump: as a contradiction to the misconception.

2) I do not really agree with you on your comment on not really getting "to see Tenma's transition from losing his son to deciding to build a robot" to replace him; I think that all the emotions and Tenma's "state of mind" are implied through the music, Tenma's expression, his tone of voice, etc., although I do agree that the construction of the robot may have been more emotional if more of its process were shown. However, the implications still explain the construction process quite well nonetheless.

3) I do agree with your comment about the alien invasion at the end of the movie; in my opinion and the opinions of some other reviewers, the scene was rather unnecessary, and would have been better if it were preceded by your suggestion of an "in-session press conference", featuring President Logan, or simply removed altogether.

4) I actually thought that Toby's surprise that he could hear and understand the window washing robots (Mr. Squirt & Mr. Squeegee) was because he could hear through the window glass (having enhanced hearing); I did not realise that it was because he could understand "robot language"! I think I may need to re-watch the movie but I think its possible you might be wrong....

I would also like to express my confusion on a comment made by Anonymous (comment no. 3) about "obvious" political references to American presidents George Bush & Barack Obama; perhaps it's because I'm not American, but I see no political references whatsoever to Obama, and only an exceedingly vague reference to Bush in the form of President Stone being militaristic - but most certainly nothing "obvious", although one thing I did notice was that, if you look closely, there is another exceedingly vague reference to another (former) leader: Adolf Hitler. The reference comes from the fact that, in the movie, President Stone had publicised the lie that "all Surface dwellers are savages", which is, in a way, similar to the way Hitler publicised the lie that "Jews are sub-human"

Finally, I have published a review about the movie on the "Reviews" page of this website. Click on my name if you wish to go there.