Astro Boy from IMAGI and director David Bowers is the latest take on Osamu Tezuka’s classic character and it’s first time out as an all computer animated feature. The basic origin for the character is that brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma loses his son Toby in a tragic accident, and using his skills in robotics, re-makes his son as the world’s most perfect robot, only still to reject him in the end, but the little robot still manages to find his place in the world, thanks to other friends. Tezuka produced thousands of pages of material around the character and there’s been three prior animated series (all worth seeking out) and it’s just fun stuff, primarily made for the younger reader/viewer in mind, but still appealing to this older one as well.
This new movie takes a lot of liberties with the details of Tezuka’s original, obviously with the idea in mind to make it more palatable to an audience today (and one would figure also to remove some of the cruelty inflicted on the character in those early stories) and while I don’t think all of these choices were necessary, in the end, I do think it’s basically in the same spirit as what Tezuka has done. Will that still make it something that people and their children in particular will want to see? Well, that’s pretty hard to say, especially considering that this character has been out of the limelight for quite awhile.
Before seeing this though, I’ve actually been reading some of Tezuka’s original stories and have been watching some of the cartoons from both 1980 and 2003. While I don’t consider myself an expert on the character by any means, I still managed to see a lot of similarities in this new production with what’s been done before and on top of that, I just plain like all of this stuff and really like the sense of wonder about it all. But for some who are really familiar with this, well, it’s kind of hard for me to say how they might take some of the more drastic changes (particularly around the setting, around Dr. Tenma, who gets a major overhaul here, and Astro’s overall “age”).
The animation is really nice and though it’s inevitably going to be compared to the gold standard (i.e. Pixar), I think what IMAGI has done here is quite well done with some real nice set pieces and some nice subtleties here and there.
There’s a pretty stellar voice cast at work here too, headed up by Freddie Highmore as Astro and Nicolas Cage as Tenma, and also including Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland and Nathan Lane amongst others, and overall, I think it’s pretty well done, with no real missteps.
I had a real good time with this and hope it does well enough to see more in the future- Tezuka’s got tons and tons of ideas that would make for some great ideas for future installments – but I have my doubts that this will continue, at least in this form. I have no doubts that there will be other versions of the character to come eventually, but will this more Americanized version stand the test, it’s hard to say…