I remember a lot about the cartoons I watched as a kid – Underdog, Inspector Gadget, TMNT, Heathcliff, The Disney Afternoon, etc. – I remember most everything with a decent amount of detail. Now, I know I watched Astro Boy as a kid, but I can’t remember anything about the show for the life of me, other than the design of the titular character. Which may explain why, whenever I mention that the new Astro Boy animated movie, which didn’t do stellar box office numbers, was based on an old animated series and manga series, people are actually surprised to hear that. I thought the image of Astro Boy himself was pretty iconic, but apparently not enough for the general public to really know who the character is.
I didn’t actually see Astro Boy in theaters – I had considered it, but I guess, even though I remember the character from when I was a wee Paul, it just wasn’t enough of a draw to see it theatrically. It was released recently on DVD and Blu-Ray, and I finally got a chance to give it a watch.
The sad thing is that the film is actually really good. Not spectacularly awesome, mind you, but definitely better than most animated films out there, with a story that doesn’t insult its adult audience, and no pop-culture references that date the film. The animation for the film was done by IMAGI, the guys who did the most recently TMNT animated film, which I thought was pretty fantastic. Just as with that film, the animation here is STELLAR. There’s some truly breathtaking stuff, and the fight scenes are the types of thing you rarely see nowadays (comparable to some of the best fight scenes from television’s Justice League Unlimited).
For those unfamiliar with the Astro Boy story (and I’m not 100% sure if the original followed the same origin), Astro Boy is about a brilliant scientist who, after the death of his son, creates a robotic boy with super powers who is powered entirely by positive energy and becomes a superhero. There are many sad, tragic moments in the first half of the film that had me surprised on the way the story progressed, but there’s still plenty of wizz-bang action to keep the entire family interested for the 90 minute running time.
What surprised me, and what probably would have helped the film had they emphasized it a little more, was the voice cast. I knew Freddie Highmore was Alpha Boy (he does great work) and that Kristen Bell was in the movie, but I didn’t know that other voices included Nicolas Cage, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy (playing TWO characters), Donald Sutherland, David Alan Grier, and even Samuel L. Jackson! Usually I don’t necessarily care for celebrity voices too much in animation, as it takes away a bit to say “that’s Samuel L. Jackson” instead of thinking of the character, but everyone does a really fantastic job in the film. A short documentary shows that most of the actors were fans of the character before being offered the roles – apparently Donald Sutherland has an Astro Boy statue in his house!
Obviously, it kind of goes without saying that, with any form of animation, watching it on Blu-Ray is really the way to go. The spectacular animation looks absolutely flawless in its Blu-Ray presentation, and, though I’m not sure what’s on the regular DVD edition, you get plenty of bonus features, including 2 brand new shorts (“short” being the operative word – combined they’re less than five minutes long), and a ton of cool featurettes on the making of the film that don’t overlap too much in information, and are all relatively interesting.
So if you loved Astro Boy as a kid, or even just like a good all-ages fantasy that doesn’t pander down to a younger audience, this film is definitely worth checking out. Recommended.