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Feature FilmTalkback

Astro Boy talkback

Flying into 3,014 U.S. theaters this weekend, the kiddie-skewing Astro Boy movie could gross anywhere from $10 million to… who knows? If you’ve screened it, tell us what you thought. The comments section below is open only to those who have actually seen the film.

UPDATE: The actual opening weekend box office gross for Astro Boy was $6.7 million.

  • A Long Time Obsever

    Good movie. Astroboy’s adorable. They copped out a bit on what happened to him before he became Astroboy, for the shildren’s sake, but the rest of the film had good emotional impact.

    The final act was unfortunately rushed. The pacing was doing just great considering it’s 95 minutes, but then the last twenty minutes was squished. The action was fine, but Astro’s pivotal scene came too speedily, regardless of the fact that he was a kid genius. Finding his purpose, his destiny, was not satisfying for me as a viewer. The movie could have been 100 minutes and it would have made a difference. Hopefully, it was a matter of editing and there’s an unedited version that could come out on DVD.

    Still, there were a couple things that were pretty harsh, at least for the “target” audience. Astro/Toby was the robot equivalent of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. The people he trusted/loved threw it back at him and then some. First his father: that didn’t hit too hard for me since I’m remember something of it during the 2003 cartoon. Then the junkyard scientist and (somewhat) his friends. The scene when the guy was shocking Astro over and over was painful. Talk about torture and betrayal!

    I suppose it’s because I’m not so diehard a fan, but I liked what I saw. I hope it does well. In anime adaptions’ track record, it’s one of the better ones, IMO. But if people really don’t like the movie, the comic book adaptation of it may be the better of the two.

    BTW, kudos for the credits having the original WRITTEN names of the workers. Was it kanji or a different language?

  • TK

    For someone with minimum experience with Tezuka’s original works like myself, I found it to be highly enjoyable. I know that many of us with childhood memories of the original series may be upset with the concept of “remake,” but this is perhaps the best effort yet to reintroduce Tetsuwan Atom to the next generation of audience and keep the series alive. (Just face it, how many kids today has enough interest to sit through episodes of ’60s black-and-white series?)

    As for the film itself, Imagi did a great job with animation (with perhaps the most bang for the bucks for quality). This is perhaps to prove that TMNT was no fluke. They know how to deliver characters and find good harmony with actions. Visually, the result’s very crisp and clean, and totally watchable. I still hope they could get TMNT 2 out soon.

    As for the story, I think it’s impossible for any remake to have a story that pleases both kids and fans of the original series. Apart from getting the theme too close to WALL-E, I think they found the best compromise to blend the original story with modern interpretation. Many die-hard fans will be left with disappointment in some degree, but kids will be left with the same experience we all did back in the ’60s.

    BTW, Tezuka’s cameo is a nice touch.

  • Michael

    Well, I just got back from seeing it with my 4-year-old boy. And what can I say? He was transfixed. Me, less so.

    I thought it started off fairly promisingly, story-wise, despite a long and pretty unnecessary (though nicely 2-D animated) expositional prologue. No spoilers here, but there’s some non-standard-kiddie-film fare to start things off, with echoes of “A.I.” It’s framed very much as an origin story, so the Astro we remember from our youth (well, some of us) is someone we don’t really see till later in the film.

    It rapidly grinds to a fairly formulaic plod once “Hannah Montana of the future” and friends show up. I don’t look at my watch much but I was eager for the obvious developments to develop, already. The 2d act is needlessly cluttered with unamusing, simpering, annoying and unnecessary secondary characters and a meandering subplot that contributes little to the narrative that could not have ben achieved by more economical and interesting means.

    Things pick up (by which I mean, “action sequences abound”) in the third act, and it’s diverting enough. But the story strains too hard for heart it does not earn, establishes secondary characters who are plastic and phony and arcs for them that feel forced, and in the end it is not exactly a failure but not exactly a successful film, either.

    Character designs a very mixed bag. They had to alter Astro to make him”fit” in 3D, but I think his pointy hair works in ways Mickey Mouse never did, until they finally realized they had to cheat his ears by making them slide one way or the other and remain 2-d as they do in the otherwise 3D “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” They didn’t need to do that with Astro; I bought his design in this movie.

    Most of the other robots seemed to come, if you will, off the assembly line, and we’ve seen almost all of them before, in better films. The humans don’t all seem to be of the same species, so wildly varied and inconsistent are their fundamental characteristics, and secondary characters are an aftertthought at best. The oh-so-lovable ragtag band of moptops Astro pals around with in the second act have in some cases a depressingly pixie-like aspect that left me cold.

    I felt the voice casting was just strange. Freddie Highmore is fine as Astro, but Nic Cage, I love him, but he didn’t sell Tenma to me at all — just the wrong guy for the job, a truly puzzling choice. Sutherland just seemed weird as the President; and Kirsten Dunst’s delivery made my teeth curl.

    I felt the character animation qua character animation was weak, with the exception of Astro — unsubtle, too broad and not specific enough. For example, there’s a moment early on when the President demands something of Tenma’s right-hand-man, who laughs it off for a moment before realizing the President is serious. Classic gear-change stuff, but the “realization” moment never comes and I was baffled by his dialogue for a moment. Likewise the animation on Cora (if that’s the Dunst character’s name) is very poor — lots of earnest and unnatural head-shaking and shoulder-shrugging for emphasis, as if based out of a book of concepts of motion rather than based on a study of genuine human motion and emotion, very big movements without much subtelty. Generally, it’s lacking in the finer details of sincere performance that make other animated fare stand out.

    Production design pretty weak, I thought. The city was kind of generic, like the Tomorrowland remake of the 80s or 90s. Bland and insipid futurism, with none of the dynamism manga has on offer, or even an inspiringly cohesive retro vision of the future.

    One thing I felt strongly was that there were a few spots where they were reaching, straining almost, for gags that felt out of place; again, not a lot of subtlety. Pixar and Aardman seem to manage these things almost effortlessly but here they felt labored and out-of-place. Perhaos deservedly, ribs seemed untickled by these efforts in my theatre.

    There’s a genuine shortage poop jokes, and it’s s shame to confess it, but for that we must al be grateful. Gratitude, however, was not what sprang to mind as I endured as bad a pop-song faux-comic “everybody working together” montage as it’s been my fate to withstand.

    So, I was not knocked out. It seems plainly aimed at the kiddies, and it works at that undemanding level, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. My son has been eager for this movie to come out for months and months and the only thing that disappointed him was that “it was too short” and he wanted to see Astro “fight the giant squid.” Could have been a better movie, and still pleased the kids, giant squid notwithstanding.

    So I guess this feels like a slam, but it really isn’t. I was expecting middling fare my young son would enjoy, something a good deal superior to TMNT (also from Imagi, and a much lamer flick) and that’s what I got. I’ve seen a lot better and a lot worse. This could have gone either way. I wish they’d chosen a little more risk, a little more of the edge at the core of the tradition Astro Boy is arguably the progenitor of, and hadn’t labored so hard to make it fit into the safe, undemanding middle-of-the-CG-animated-road.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Coming from someone who’s far more familiar with Astro Boy, this was a slight disappointment. I’ve already wrote about it in my LJ yesterday, and I often feel it reflects the way these films are being made by Imagi itself. They’re very light on substance but heavy on action. You cannot deny that it’s apparent within the first 10 minutes of this film. No doubt this is a film that would appeal to those that wouldn’t care how Astro Boy was/is or the source material behind it, for others, it might be worth seeing just once on rental and that’s all.

    > I suppose it’s because I’m not so diehard a fan, but I liked what I saw. I hope it does well. In anime adaptions’ track record, it’s one of the better ones, IMO. But if people really don’t like the movie, the comic book adaptation of it may be the better of the two.

    There’s been many iterations of Astro Boy for the past 50+ years, the manga, the 1960’s anime, the 1980’s anime as well as the 2003 anime edition to name a few (I’m not going to bring up the live-action version seen only in Japan at one point).

    > BTW, kudos for the credits having the original WRITTEN names of the workers. Was it kanji or a different language?

    Technically it’s Chinese (the characters are part of their language and is different from the Japanese usage of those characters where it is called “kanji” there). The names are written bilingually for those of the Chinese side of production in Hong Kong. They don’t do this with the few Japanese people involved in the production. I personally didn’t care for the “Wrath of Khan” font used for the end credits, and also wished they had stuck in the Astro Boy theme song too!

    I just know I’m not getting my $7.75 back that easy. :-(

  • Grant

    What initially looked like an interesting idea for a film has turned out to be a middling mush of a movie. I have no problem with a film aiming at a broad audience (it’s the hardest kind of film to make successfully), but the film makers should not have worked so obviously and strenuously to avoid ANY controversy whatsoever. The characters each live in their own world, and really do not relate to one another. And the characters don’t have particularly unique personality traits that would have engaged an audience older than 5 years old. Story seems very committeed to death by executives who really do not know how to take advantage of the medium. The animation is strictly video-game quality (not as good as Team Fortress 2, far better than shrek–which isn’t saying much). The design of the film is lazy, and very non-specific. The lighting and textures border not on being simple in a good way, but simplistic in a very lazy way.

    For some reason, I really had my hopes a bit higher for this project. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay to see it, but I’d sure like those 90 minutes back.

  • realist

    I saw it and enjoyed it, although I was surprised at how dark it was (I knew nothing about Astroboy going in except his iconic design).

    Like it or not, the story wasn’t “commiteed to death by executives”. It was rewritten by the director from his own story. He was hired to direct with 20 months to go before yesterday’s release, some animation already done in the can and, one presumes, a film where nothing was working(hence his hiring as I think the 3rd director on the project). He’d read all the manga and had to come up with a 90 minute film that would serve all audiences, obviously especially US ones, which is of course what Imagi was hoping for. There were some crackerjack story artists on it as well, excellent people.

    It’s an incredibly disappointing opening as it is a film worth seeing, one the kids I saw it with loved, especially the boys.

  • shadowcat016

    My thoughts about the movie.

    It wasn’t that bad of a movie but it wasn’t good either.

  • Rio

    B+ Most of the scenes that could have really brought heart to the film were rushed. The light areas of the film were humorous, but not funny. Better than what I was expecting though. It is a good film, but not great.

  • My full review is on my blog, but in short: real potential for a game-changer killed by forced jokey-ness.

  • Rio

    Oh, I forgot to mention that Donald Sutherland’s voice performance was absolutely terrible. He’s voice was the true robot in disguise.

  • Super Laura!

    The film did feel a bit rushed. But my greatest disapointment was that I didn’t hear the “theme song” during the movie. Other than that, I enjoyed it. But I’m not very hard to please either.

  • JE

    I thought it was pretty good film. Slow at times, but miles ahead of that God-awful live action “Speed Racer” fiasco. I loved the character design of the film. They updated the characters, but still kept the look similar to that of the Manga. The voice talent was also great, especially Nathan Lane as Hammegg. I couldn’t think of anybody better to play him. IMAGI is a great unit. They did a great adaptation of “Astroboy” and previously with “TMNT”. I can’t wait for “Gatchaman”.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Not hearing the theme song (even in the end credits) was a bit of a disappointment to me as well. It would’ve been nice if they acknowledged that.

  • Jason

    I missed the theme song too. The music that WAS used sounded like a Superman ripoff. As for the movie, there is much to commend it. But the unnecessary political junk damn near killed it. Too bad.

  • Michael Wolff

    (The Pocket Review)

    Just like Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film Artificial Intelligence: A.I. except:

    A. It’s entertaining.

    B. It’s not as pretentious.

    C. It probably didn’t cost as much to make.

    (On the down side, Astro Boy doesn’t have Jude Law as Gigolo Joe but, hey, apples and oranges.)

  • Jip

    I thought the story of AI was inspired by Astroboy.
    Isnt that right?

  • James E. Parten

    I travel in circles where “anime” is something of a dirty word. I myself am not a big fan of the genre. I have issues with the style of storytelling, among other things.
    And I remember sitting through the original series as a ten-year-old. I would watch it, but mainly as there was nothing else on in that timeslot.
    So, I don’t have the same frame of reference that a real fan of anime or manga would have. I have to accept my own take on something like this.
    Frankly, I think that the crew at Imagi did a good job on this one. I’m sorry to see it doing such weak boxoffice: it deserves better.
    This film does not have the lok nor the sound of anime. Everything seems natural–and American. There are gags that bespeak familiarity with gags from classic US animation. The writing has an American tang that is usually missing from something whose source is from Japan.
    Animation is fluid and good-looking–but then, can you think of a bad-looking animated pic in this day and age?
    This is perhaps not of Oscar caliber. Nor is it as much of an out-of-left-field surprise as was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” earlier this year. But it is amiable enough, and will not rot the braincells to any great degree. There are laughs, there is a goodly amount of “eye candy”, and it’s a good way to spend 95 minutes in an air-conditioned theatre on an unseasonably hot day.

  • Jim Engel

    Just got back from a 9:30 PM screening of ASTRO BOY. I thought I’d have the theatre all to myself (and practically did), but who should show up? My old friend Steve (“MONSTERSCENE”) Smith (the only other person I know who likes ASTRO BOY as much as I do). I liked the film as much as I thought I would, which was not at all.

    The two little boys seated in front of me in the theatre liked ASTRO BOY, and while they were probably more the intended audience than I was, I still think it’s possible to adapt a comic or cartoon to a feature film in a way that would appeal to a “new” audience as well as to a long-time fan like myself. Having SAID that though, I can’t think of a single example of that ever having been done…

  • Smudge

    I saw this film at midnight on Friday morning. My friend and I were the only two people in the theatre (yay private screening!!) but I hope that it wasn’t a harbinger of things to come for this film–it made, what, 7 million USD as of Saturday afternoon?

    All-in-all, it was a decent film and held my attention pretty consistently for something geared to (I assume) a 5 to 10 age group. I thought that the death scene was handled very tactfully (though will probably take some explaining to the youngest viewers). I even got choked up a couple of times. And both the animation and modeling were consistent with the high level of quality I’ve come to expect from Imagi.

    I guess the only thing that bothered me is that the story seemed to lack depth. It’s not that it was bad, it wasn’t, it was just a little too light and fluffy. I was expecting something a little more edgy given the source material (but, I’m not a part of their target demographic, so…). That and the villain was very similar to the villain Morg in the third DVD of Angel Wars: Guardian Force or the boomers in BubbleGum Crisis. Not accusing anyone of anything mind you, just thought that it was an idea that had been done before and while it was okay how Imagi executed it, I’ve seen it before and I felt kind of deflated when I saw it–was pretty predictable what would happen after its introduction. Was left kind of wishing that they would’ve used the octo-thingie as the villain instead. Eh, will give me something to look forward to if they do a sequel.

    At any rate, as I enjoyed both TMNT and Astroboy, I’m looking forward to seeing what Imagi does with Gatchaman. Hope Astroboy does well for them financially. Thanks for the evening’s entertainment. :)

  • Just a quick note.

    The animation and design wise the movie looked great. I was definatly happy as far as the look and feel of the movie.

    I felt story wise the story was un-even, something about it felt really off.

    Lastly the voices through me off completely….I hate celebrity voices. They’re almost always flat and tinny. The only voice I connected with was Bill Nihey. Everyone else was reading lines in a studio. There a quality professional voice actors have the just sounds more natural.

    The the recorded celebrity voices can work see the Incredibles and
    “where the wild things are”



  • Loyla

    Astro Boy shares a fatal flaw with many Japanese comics and Japanes storytelling in general. They cannot see the world in a universal perspective. The filmmakers struggled to make the project and story and themes universal, because not only is Japanese/Asian stories not universal, they are pretty lame and shallow. I am not referring to the classic works, but anime/samurai stories/ninja/monsters/godzilla crap. It’s good Astro Boy fails, because the story is confusing and sends a wrong message. Be gentle and then be a rambo with missiles firing from your feet and behind? Only in Japan, but not for the world. Who’s the idiot at Imagi who thought Astro will make Imagi like Pixar..?? My goodness. This Astro Boy totally is a waste of your kids’ attention span and your hard earned cash. Watch a rerun of ToyStory 3D instead! You’ll regret Astro Boy.

  • Super Don Quix-ote

    I saw this over the weekend at a sparsely-attended matinee. Not a great movie, and there were certainly things about it that bugged me (especially the really half-assed attempts to turn it into some kind of political parable), but I would give it a mild “thumbs up” because I found it enjoyable in its own pleasantly dorky way. Even though I do like Tezuka a lot (particularly Phoenix and Black Jack), I’m not a huge Astro Boy fan, so I didn’t go into this with huge expectations, which probably helped.

    If anyone here wants to see a better animated adaptation of Tezuka’s work, I would recommend Rintaro’s Metropolis.

  • JMatte

    I knew the original material for Astro, having seen the serie (the 80’s one) and read the mangas.
    I do love Tezuka’s work, and thought this was a decent North American adaptation ( I was internally grumbling that HamEgg looked really different, more plump, ha ha!). I can see though that true, huge fans of the original source may be cringing.

    I will agree with a previous post: overall, this movie works pretty well for its intended audience of young boys.
    I didn’t mind the other robots’s designs, as they made it clear that Astro was an exceptional one compared to the rest of them.
    Story wise, it felt touch and go, a bit uneven. Some dialogs, especially about destiny, felt a bit forced. Personal preference.
    If this movie was indeed reworked in about 20 months, I can sympathize with the pressure and the demands of production.

    I tend to agree that Sutherland’s voice was not as pushed as it could have been. The design of the president also reminded me, in some shots, of the food critic in Ratatouille.
    Astro is a fun film. Not Oscar great, but enjoyable. I really wish it well.

  • Bill Benzon

    “I thought the story of AI was inspired by Astroboy. Isnt that right?”

    Yes. Spielberg picked up AI from Stanley Kramer, who’d been working on the property for years but, for whatever reason, was unable to bring the story to screen before he died. Kramer was quite familiar with Tezuka’s work and had asked him to be art director for 2001, a gig Tezuka declined because he couldn’t take that much time out of his schedule.

    The early episodes of Astro Boy’s story (in the original manga and in the 60’s and 80’s anime series, I’ve not seen much of the 2003 version) owe a debt to Pinocchio, as does (obviously) AI.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I think Bill meant Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut), not Stanley Kramer (It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World). It is common knowledge that Tezuka was asked to work on 2001 but he turned it down since he didn’t want to leave his home country for a long period of time to work on the film. Apparently he liked playing the soundtrack to the movie while he drew his comic pages many times over, so no doubt he missed the opportunity to have been an art director on that film badly.

    Speaking of Astro and Tezuka, here’s several books I could reccomend anyone to pick up to find out more behind the man and his robot…
    The Astro Boy Essays by Frederick L. Schodt (author of “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics”)

    The Art of Osamu Tezuka by Helen McCarthy w/Forward by Katushiro Otomo

  • Bill Benzon

    D’oh! Yes, Kubrick, not Kramer. Thanks for the correction, Chris. The Astro Boy Essays is full of good stuff.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Glad to help Bill.

    I first came to know of Tezuka for his experimental films I first saw over a decade ago. Now you too can own some of the most overlooked and seldom seen pieces of abstract, experimental animation on R1 DVD from Kino International!

  • Bill Benzon

    I was surprised to see the Miyazaki references. Zog’s design had echos of the robots in Castle in the Sky (which are, in turn, an homage to robots in a Fleischer Bros Superman short) and, especially, his situation when we first encounter him, planted in the ground surrounded by green grass. Makes me wonder whether or not the idea of the floating city was also taken from Castle in the Sky. Though the conception itself is common enough it wasn’t there in Tezuka’s story.

    I agree with Super Don Qui-xote about Rintaro’s Metropolis: Excellent.