before i went out to see Astro Boy last night, I watched the movie critics on At the Movies tear the movie apart. They hated the movie, and said that it was confused, boring, and totally inappropriate for children. They appeared especially concerned with the violence, death, and questionable character motivations at the core of the conflicts in the film. although both critics suggested skipping the movie, their reviews actually intrigued me to give the movie a chance. As often happens, the critics got it wrong.
for the record, Astro Boy is loosely based on the archetypal manga and anime character of the same name created by the so-called "god of manga" Osamu Tezuka. the plot of the film takes place in the futuristic floating city/state Metro City, whose citizens live a fairly idyllic existence as they are waited on hand-and-foot by a race of robots of every conceivable shape size and function, while the city's refuse is dumped on the planet's ruined surface. When chief scientist Dr. Tenma's son Toby is accidentally killed by one of his experiments, the grief-stricken Tenma builds a nigh-invincible robot doppelganger of his son, loaded with a laundry list of high-tech super powers so that he need not fear losing him again.
Of course, things go awry and Toby finds himself at odds with his father and the militaristic President of Metro City and he is eventually cast out of the utopian society and down to the trashed-out surface world. Once there, he changes his name to Astro, and tries to come to terms with who and what he is.
at the core of the criticism of this film is one of the main problems with children's entertainment: people instantly assume that kids can't (or perhaps shouldn't) handle depth. the fact is this picture deals with some pretty deep stuff. Rejection, death, pollution, war, politics, scientific ethics, and of course, robots are used to allegorically address treatment of minorities, immigrants, foreigners, and the poor in general (fun fact: "robot" literally means "slave"). it's wrong to assume that children should not be exposed to these ideas, and the movie does a good job of making painful or provocative moments sharp, but brief. although Astro is tortured by things he is exposed to, he remains fairly upbeat and willing to be cheered up. he also shows character and willingness to sacrifice for the good of his friends, and society in general.
I found the design and animation in the film very satisfying. the filmmakers did a nice job of balancing comedy with sad and scary moments. The pacing of the film is designed to show us in escalating encounters what Astro is made of, and he shows himself to be a hero inside and out. Astro Boy uses cartoon-style science and politics, free from unnecessary complications that still can be related to real life. Astro Boy is a tightly-packed 94 minute film that animation fans and action fans should enjoy... and your kids will probably like it too, because it will tweak their sense of wonder without talking down to them.
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