Sunday, 14 February 2010

February Toon Overload!: Astro Boy

The UK cinema industry is a bit weird, at least with kids titles. In the past 3 weeks we've had a whopping 4 animated titles in Cinemas, mind about 3 of them have been held over from last year and one of them is apparently regarded as a "live action film".

Anyways, having a little looksie at the 3 films held over: Astro Boy, Princess and the Frog and Ponyo. Split into 3 posts to try and minimise the text walls.

Astro Boy

First and foremost we have Imagi's second and seemingly last film. The title played out in the US and most international markets back in October and it suffered from a slightly troubled production, some poor marketing and maybe the fact that Imagi didn't really have much of a reputation from audiences outside its first film TMNT. It's done a bit better in the UK, holding 3rd in its opening week behind Princess and the Frog and the juggernaut that is Avatar.

The film is a retelling of the origin story of Astro, how he was built initially by head of Ministry of Science, Dr Tenma, to replace the void left by the death of his son. After activating the robot and giving it his sons memories, it becomes clear the robot isn't his son and has its own personality, in his grief he abandons Astro and Astro is pursued by the Metro City government, whom want the blue core that powers him to be destroyed

I'm a big fan of Tezuka's stuff and knowing his estate is normally quite hot on how his characters are handled, there had to be a reason this film managed to make it to release. So I gave it a go and I have to be honest, it was pretty decent! 

I mean, sure, the film doesn't beat the long running narrative of the manga or the epic storyline of the 2003 series. But considering the time the film had (and the odds of a sequel) they had to pick a storyline and the origin makes the most sense considering Astro, despite being a well loved character, hasn't got much of a mainstream popularity in the west. Considering the original manga deals a lot with racism and generally has some darker storylines (when the BBC ran the 2003 anime, the presenters of the kids block even noted it was quite a dark show for kids TV, and that was the edited Sony dub! )

It's a little American-ised, the back story to Metro-City almost screams Wall-E but once past that the rest of the film is fine. Astro is portrayed pretty good as a character, and it's actually nice to have a slightly more sympathetic look at Dr Tenma as a grieving father after the 2003 series and Hamegg in a similar sort of role (but I wish he wasn't instantly "bad" for hating robots, looking after those orphans was still a good deed!). On top of this is the fact Astro is actually played as a kid realizing he's now a robot and dealing with the subsequent consequences, rather than just "oh wow I'm a robot woo!" (something Sony were oddly keen to cut out the dub of the 2003 anime somehow

The things that did let down the film were mostly in the second half, the kids were okay characters but their designs were clearly not anywhere near the Tezuka design, which makes it a bit hard to accept them as characters. In addition the overly-political aspirations of the President stops seeming so much of a threat after the billionth utterance of "This surely will get me re-elected!" and variations thereof.

Theres also a 3 stooges act of robots that turn up in the middle of the film and their only real contribution is to give Astro his name. Even at the films end they note that their contribution to the whole thing was essentially nothing. While its fine to have characters that don't advance the story, the fact their inclusion actually stops the plot for their antics for a whole 10 minutes just makes them irritating, specially as their gags are not really all that funny.

All in all a decent re-telling of the story with a bit of an American twist, but its still pretty true to the source material despite the changes. The script lets itself down when it tries to sugar the storyline a bit too much but it deserved to do better than maybe it has. Its a shame this was Imagi's last film as the ending preps itself for a sequel and I do think had Imagi had time and less hassle they could of easily carried into a second film. But Astro's had many storylines so I'm sure we'll see him again in some form or another.

No comments:

Post a Comment