Astro Boy is a mixture of success and failure, and probably an animation that’s going to sink without a trace.
First off, the animation is sorely lacking. This is a very bright, shiny film, with little in the way of texture or depth. Because of its setting, the film is at times reminiscent of Wall-E, which doesn’t do it any justice – Pixar’s triumph looks 100 times better than this. The facial animation of the characters is minimal – it’s almost as if they eschewed good lip-synching in favour of an easily dubbed, ‘Thunderbirds‘-type lip twitching.
For the first time I can remember in an animation, the voice acting is shitty also. There are a number of thespians who succeed – Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell and Freddie Highmore all do decent jobs in the face of dodgy scripting, however Nicolas Cage (I know, I know) and Bill Nighy are terrible as Dr Tenma and Dr Elephant respectively. They may be well cast (the voices sound right) but their delivery is horrible stilted. That being said, the script is particularly awful. The potentially emotional moments fall as flat as the jokes. Add to that fact that there are a number of peripheral characters written purely to conform to the traditional animation stereotypes and you have a significant amount of poor characterisation.
Thankfully, the story is solid. They stick closely to that of the television series (with some significant exceptions) and the overall power of this morality tale is quite undeniable. In a future where humans have taken to the sky and robots form a new underclass, inventor Dr Tenma’s boy is accidentally killed. Wracked with grief, Tenma creates a new ‘son’ – thus we have Astro. All the good science fiction concepts are here – it’s Prometheus, Frankenstein and a cautionary nuclear power tale all in one. Some of the most dramatic moments of the film succeed in the face of the previously mentioned flaws simply because the story is that good. They could have really driven the drama home and created a soul-destroying tragedy, but they decided to keep it a safe kids movie (which is fair enough, really.) I actually remember the TV show being much more upsetting than this.
It fails miserably when compared to Pixar and those few top animations done by rival companies (Bolt, Monster House et cetera) but one can’t deny that Astro Boy is a powerful piece of science fiction. Surrogates could have learnt a thing or two from it, that’s for sure.Rating: