Reviews: Astro Boy

A more emotional and interesting film than its crappy marketing lets on

Hollywood marketing doesn't seem to understand the concept of a kids' movie that doesn't insult kids' intelligence, and expects them to follow along with a serious story. That's why the advertising for this film made it look like a generic action-comedy. Hollywood assumes that kids aren't interested in character drama and would rather see "I have machine guns... in my butt?" Had I only seen the ads and not read reviews, I wouldn't have bothered with this film.

But early on, we get the death of a child, and his grieving father, a scientist, deciding to create a robot form of his kid, with his son's memories. Eventually, the father tells the robot that he's not really his son, and to leave. Astro Boy, confused and upset that what he was programmed to think of as his own father had kicked him out of the house, does indeed leave and ends up meeting a bunch of orphaned kids in a junkyard.

Many heady themes are touched upon in the movie, ranging from the aforementioned parental abandonment and loss of a child, to prejudice and class warfare. Despite the procession of jokes to lighten the mood, the story itself isn't the happiest out there, but it's generally well told and exciting. I often couldn't tell where the story was going to go next, and yet the many plot twists made sense and worked to make the story more interesting. There were some generic and totally predictable elements in there as well, and the whole "blue energy = good, red energy = more powerful but bad" was corny, but in general, the plot was enjoyable.

It's a royal shame that this movie killed the company that made it. I do wonder if the horrible marketing was at least partly to blame. Hollywood doesn't seem to understand how to deal with anything that breaks their precious formulas, and an intelligent, emotional film about a boy who dies, is more or less rebuilt as a powerful fighting robot, thrown out of his house by his own father, moves in with a bunch of orphans led by an engineer, and ends up having to save people from a giant robot threat, is something that must blow Hollywood marketers' formulaic minds and present a dilemma for them. Their decision to focus only on the "fighting robot" aspect and the dumber comedic elements made a surprisingly enjoyable film look like generic garbage, and could very well have killed the audience.

Far better than expected, but still feels a bit rushed.

When I first saw the trailers for Astro Boy, my initial expectations were extraordinarily low. To me, it looked like a childish piece of rubbish that would undoubtedly be full of action, dull humor, and flat characters. I passed over it without looking back.

Unfortunately for the film, Trailers Always Lie. When I finally got around to seeing it, I was blown away by the amount of development given to the (main) characters, at least in comparison to what I'd anticipated. I hadn't expected it to get so dark, or actually hold off on the action and at least attempt to explore what it would be like to find out that your life is a lie, and you're actually just a recently-made copy of the original. Ultimately, that just made it so much more disappointing, because it simply came so CLOSE to being an excellent film! The pacing frequently varied from good to absurdly fast, with scenes that really needed to be fleshed out a little more taking place over the course of seconds. It was gut-wrenching to see incredibly important scenes with so much build-up glossed over like they were. I felt like I wanted to know more about the characters, have more interaction between them before things moved on. While I understand there were time constraints, there were plenty of other, less useful scenes that could have been cut just a tiny bit shorter to make room for the ones I was actually invested in, or a bit of changed dialogue that would have gotten the point across better.

Still, I can't say I regret seeing the film. It's definitely worth checking out if you want an interesting story about a boy trying to find his place in the world. Believe me, it's nothing like the trailers make it out to be. You won't be disappointed about the quality so much as the simple fact that there's not ENOUGH of it to completely satisfy you. The love interest, while not the best I've seen, is at least somewhat likable. The villain, while his political undertones are incredibly blatant, does manage to squeeze out some laughs, Astro's "father" is believable enough to be reasonably sympathetic, and Astro himself tugged at my heartstrings. Even the characters that weren't so fleshed out (time constraints, I assume) were interesting enough to make me wish they had been.

All in all, it's worth seeing at least once.