A childhood favourite of mine (warning: possible spoilers [and a very long review])
(note: I am not a parent of a child but I'm too old to be on the "kids" section of the reviews)
It has been quite a few years since I had first seen this film, I was about 10 or 11. I had no knowledge of the original manga series prior to watching this, and I remember absolutely loving it (although my mum didn’t due to it not being the same as the 80s series she grew up on). Due to hearing this from her I decided to learn a little more about the original series by reading the manga and watching the TV shows. I’m 20 now, this movie was on television not too long ago and I decided since I had nothing better to do, and it was one of my childhood favourites, I’d rewatch it. This time with knowledge of the manga series. Due to my slight change of opinion on the film after a rewatch, and new information on the series, I was interested to see what other kids and parents thought of this movie. I decided I’d write a review for it too while I’m at it.
A bit of a run-down of the beginning of the film, which many seem to be concerned about: Set in a futuristic world, Metro City is a place that floats above the earth’s surface and is a prosperous nation that is served hand-on-foot by advanced robots. The earth below (known as “the surface” in the film) is the stark contrast. It is polluted and destroyed, and serves as Metro City’s dumping ground for disregarded robots and machinery. The people still living on the surface do not have a life like those of Metro City who live more “upper class” than the rest.
One man that is responsible for the advancement of robot technology is a man named Dr. Bill Tenma, the head of The Ministry of Science. He has one son named Toby, a cheeky, approximately 13 year old boy who has the same talent and passion as his father in the department of science and robotics. Due to Tenma’s work we find out quite early in the film that he spends very little time with his son and has to constantly cancel family time with Toby. On this particular day after Toby leaves school and is on his way home, Dr. Tenma has to cancel another one of his father-son days for a military weapon demonstration to the city’s president. Toby, is of course upset about another broken promise by his father, and begs Tenma to let him come and see the demonstration of the “Peacekeeper”, a powerful robot weapon requested by the president. Given strict orders by his father, Toby’s mischievous and smart self tampers with the Tenma’s robot-nanny who is driving the car, and reprograms him to drive to The Ministry of Science.
We are then introduced to the main antagonist of the film, President Stone. A cocky, “violence solves everything” type of character who thinks starting wars will get him re-elected (#logic). Dr Tenma and the President are listening to a presentation on two types of new energy sources that can be inserted into robots, “positive blue core energy”, and “negative red core energy”, being an overly obvious representation of good and bad, which will alter the behaviour of whatever robot it is inserted into. The President orders to have these energy sources for the military demonstration.
On the way to the demonstrations lab, Toby finds his father and President Stone. After being told off by Tenma for coming, the President allows Toby to view the demonstration, but quickly takes it back when Toby starts talking smart about a piece of Stone’s technology that he claimed was “outdated” (coz the guy has that fragile of an ego). He called his guards to lock Toby in a storage room until the demonstration was over. Toby escapes when he steals a guard’s ID card when he gets thrown in.
Toby then finds the room where they are testing the Peacekeeper. Of course even with all the scientists telling the President to not use the red core in such a dangerous machine, this over grown child thinks it’s all just a game and who cares if this robot weapon is “unstable”…right?
All of the scientists and the President are sitting in an open area which seems to be a control room, and Toby is much closer to the action (within the demonstration area, which nobody is aware of). The Peacekeeper with the unpredictable red core energy loses control and gets ready to attack the scientists, in which they quickly respond by closing off the area with a large glass-panel shield. The shield malfunctions when the Peacekeeper knocks into it locking it shut, and Toby is stuck in the testing ground. He bangs on the glass helplessly calling out for his father, while Tenma tries to comfort him saying that he promises to get Toby out. This unfortunately is Tenma’s final empty promise to Toby, for the Peacekeeper tries to evaporate the shield, the screen flashed in white, and Toby is gone (assumed killed). The Peacekeeper’s red core is destroyed by a scientist, and Tenma searches frantically for his son, only thing that remains of him though, is his red Ministry of Science hat.
Tenma stricken by grief (and not thinking straight), creates a robot replica of his son, installing the memories of Toby within it with the DNA from hair found in the hat (#animelogic). The robot is created with advanced defence systems such as machine guns, arm cannons and rockets in his legs, to make sure he does not lose his son again. He uses the remaining blue core from the Peacekeeper demonstration to power his robot creation. He is so sure of himself that this robot is going to be a “perfect” replica of his son. Once activated Tenma attempts to set his new Toby in, not making him aware of the fact he’s a robot. Very quickly though, does Tenma realise this robot is not going to be exactly like his son, and is very quick to kick him out to the kerb. This robot boy will go on his adventures and eventually be known as the classic hero “Astro Boy”.
Now when I was younger the movie made me laugh, feel sad, and be pumped for the action scenes. Although the humour doesn’t really do it for me anymore, I still love the fight scenes, and I still can’t help feel sad at the story. I think I was old enough to not take everything in this film to heart, hence why I didn’t get scared. I see a lot of parents in these reviews complaining about the target audience being really little kids, and I have to sadly, agree with the parents that the target audience does seem to be a bit wrong.
The humour in this film… For very young kids. The fight scenes state otherwise. It’s too scary for young children and too cheesy for teenagers. It’s as if there was no set audience. I think it should have either be for pre-teen audience, or the adults/older kids that grew up on Astro Boy as kids, which leads me to my main disappointment:
The thing that seriously disappoints me about this film is the fact is has almost no connection to the original manga series. It’s as if they changed the storyline to fit a (not so good) villain such as President Stone, who is a shallow character with a “start-a-war-to-get-me-re-elected-as-president” attitude (possible foreshadowing to a future election, maybe?). They tried so hard to make the film have a political element like previous versions of the series, but the character has no good reason for his actions, nor does the “motive” match the older series. Nothing good to take out of this guy, he served no real purpose, and the movie would have been better off using some villains from the 60s, 80’s or 00’s series such as Atlas (a robot that does not follow the Rules of Robotics and can hurt humans), Skunk and his gang (a bunch of mobsters/thieves who frequently control robots to do their dirty work), The Blue Knight (who’s an enemy to humans and a saviour of robots), Deadcross (one who's trying to rid the world of robots), and heck, could’ve gone with the 2003 series and made Dr. Tenma the main antagonist! (who was a much more interesting character if you ask me). That series made drastic changes to the plot, but it was done in a tasteful way.
This film took some of the main plot points (and even changing them, like how Toby died which was originally a car accident), didn’t bother to keep to the same order as the manga, didn’t keep all the original characters and threw in some that don’t exist in any version of the series and don’t do the plot any justice... and voila, a try-hard to be different from the original series. The Tezuka magic, the creativity of the original Astro Boy was just not there in this. I think the great Osamu Tezuka would be rolling in his grave at how childish this plot was rewritten.
The film also changes Astro’s main power supply. His heart and sense of justice does not come from the heart Tenma has built, but from a source of energy from an asteroid called the “Blue Core”. This gives a strange sense of god-likeness to Astro, being able to resurrect robots with his blue core energy, and them likewise being able to resurrect others. He is practically invincible, with unlimited power supply which takes away from any suspense created in the movie which is a darn shame. Astro in almost every series was an incredibly powerful robot, but did not have an unlimited supply to make him invincible.
The parents that complain that the movie was too violent, I agree it shouldn’t be shown to very little kids (It was rated PG for a reason, I believe). Those who are surprised have clearly not seen the original manga or any remake of the TV series. The story of Astro Boy is almost 70 years old, violence is not a new thing to this story. Although Toby dies in a car accident rather than a military-weapon demonstration, the 60s version of the show I recall, actually shows Dr. Tenma holding his dead son when he finds him in wreckage. In no version of Astro boy though, is there any signs of blood and gore. Death was shown as characters laying motionless, and injuries were shown as scratches, bumps and band-aids.
The original manga also shows a much more horrible side of Tenma, not only the neglectful side, but an abusive side, to his robot son when he realises Astro will never be like his Tobio (Toby’s original Japanese name). He then sells off Astro to a robot circus owner named Hamegg, who puts robots in gladiator games to fight to the death. The movie has this “Robot Games” scene, but Astro did not end up there due to his own father’s neglect. Robots and aliens get destroyed by fighting, that’s I guess the point of it being called action.
The original story of Astro’s beginnings is much more dark and depressing. This is why I think it’s not a problem with the “violence” itself, it’s been toned down a great deal (too much if you ask me), but I probably wouldn’t be showing it to a five year old or under, like some parents apparently have.
The movie set itself up for some great discussion points and themes that could have been educational, but they were replaced with cliches and bad jokes. It could have gone more in-depth about the environment, and protecting it. Equality, between robots and humans, which is one of the main themes in the original series (and of course can be applied to real life with equality in the human race). Could’ve had a villain with a political motive that actually made sense…
That’s what’s missing in the film. The original manga, the TV series, no matter if you’re watching the 60s, 80s or 2000’s, at least gives you an insight on themes (some fairly grim) but get the audience, young and old thinking. Death, abuse, slavery, inequality, a fight between right and wrong, things that unfortunately exist in the world today. These are explored and flat out shown in some cases. Astro was put into positions that tested his morals. The main plot of the original story is lost in this film, Astro’s fight to make robots and humans live together in society as equals. They had in this movie, 3 robots that were like a “robot activist group”, but they were such morons that it just made the whole cause sound like a joke. Astro used to be a hero who was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His own kind, robots were being mistreated by humans but he would still not harm them, and would save both if need be, rather than picking sides, even if, the humans didn’t treat him with any respect (after saving them countless times). This film made him a boring one-dimensional character with a personality of the stereotypical awkward teenager. Yes he saves the day of course, but what positive messages are there to take out of it? He sacrificed himself to save Metro City and destroy the Peacekeeper, some parents didn't like the message that sent out.
I will admit there are some positives, themes of one’s identity, and belonging is shown throughout the film, could’ve been fleshed out a little more thought I think. The animation of this film back in the day, left me speechless because I thought it was so awesome. There are some awesome sequences in the film, the creation of Astro, the scenes where he learns to use his powers, the epic action scenes… pure animation magic I called it. It is an entertaining film, to those kids that are mature enough to handle some animated action.
Final take on this, I’d say this movie is best suitable for older children, 8+, but I would also recommend talking to your kids about the main themes in the film before watching, and going into more detail after. They are things your kids are going to learn about eventually, it might be a good incentive to start explaining certain life circumstances.
I liked the movie much more when I was younger when I didn’t know how much they disregarded the main material, but I think this movie will always hold some kind of special place in my childhood memories, and if I hadn’t seen this I probably wouldn’t have dug further into the original manga.