If you’re searching for the most disappointing movie of 2009, look no further than the much-anticipated American remake of the legendary Japanese manga/anime hero Astro Boy.
I ducked out of work early to catch an advanced screening of Astro Boy last night. I have been a fan of the manga and anime (created by the Japanese ‘God of Manga’ Osamu Tezuka) since I could remember and was so excited to see it (in part due to the awesome posters), even if it was with modest expectations given the track record of American remake efforts.
Frankly, there is no other way to put it: Astro Boy sucked. If you are a fan of the manga or anime, you will be particularly offended by it. There’s almost none of the charm, excitement and heart that made Astro Boy such an iconic figure around Asia (and the world). The plot resembles the original storyline but not enough attention and care was given to make it work. Much of the devices used were pointless. Apart from Astro, the characters were generally underdeveloped. The villains were cardboard boxes. There were a couple of amusing references but on the whole the jokes were flat and childish (my biggest gripe). The action was no better than any ordinary episode of the anime. It felt like a film made for young children without any regard to the now older original fans that made Astro Boy successful in the first place.
Even if you’ve never seen the original (or its later incarnations) before, you’ll still be shocked by how derivative it is. Think AI. Think Gladiator. Sure, some of these things could be blamed on the original story, but they were certainly aspects the writers could have worked their way around. They could have remained true to the spirit of the original while infusing some fresher elements to it. Instead, it feels like the film failed on both counts.
On the plus side, the CGI was not groundbreaking, but I liked its simplicity and texture. It was an obvious improvement on the old hand-drawn techniques but retained the smooth visual style of the original. There was also a superb voice cast, led by Freddie Highmore and featuring the familiar voices of Nicholas Cage, Nathan Lane, Donald Sutherland, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron, Eugene Levy and Samuel L Jackson. They were all solid, though Highmore’s voice, which must have broken the last couple of years, made him sound older and more masculine than the Astro we’re used to.
If I had gone into Astro Boy having never heard of the series or character before, I’d probably give this film 2 stars, but because I was such a huge fan, I can only give it 1.5 stars out of 5!