Pinocchio, meet the Jetsons.
Thanks to the wonders of advanced science, Metro City has escaped the threat of the earth’s encroaching pollution problems and been set afloat in the clean air above the clouds. Residents of this sparkling utopia have subservient robots to tend to their every need. And when their garbage starts to pile up, they simply dump it on the nasty "ground dwellers" below.
Life is good and getting better thanks to the groundbreaking efforts of the brilliant Dr. Tenma.
But then tragedy strikes.
During an experiment with a new "blue core" energy source, Tenma’s son, Toby, is accidentally killed. Devastated, the scientist locks himself away and uses the powerful blue core to create a DNA-enhanced, rocket-propelled, robotic version of his son.
As perfect as the new supercharged Toby is, though, the grieving dad can’t accept him as anything but a painful reminder of his loss. So the robot boy finds himself abandoned by the one person he cares about and hunted by a warmongering politician who wants to exploit the life-force that’s pulsing through his circuits.
Dropping to the ground below, Toby feels as useless and unneeded as the junk that’s piled around him.
On the ground, Toby meets other outcasts, and he’s renamed Astro Boy. That’s when he starts to see his place in the world. Imbued with a strong sense of right and wrong, Astro Boy constantly makes the right and often self-sacrificial choice to protect others—no matter what the cost. Even when a bad guy is about to get a violent comeuppance, Astro Boy steps up to save him. And later, when faced with the choice to run and live or meet certain death by saving the innocent, he chooses the latter, saying, "This is what I was meant for."
Astro Boy also maintains a deep desire to be part of a family and find a father figure who will sincerely care about him. He thinks he finds that in the robot tech HamEgg, but the man turns out to be less than he appears. He does, however, develop close friendships with a group of lost kids he meets. One of those is a girl named Cora who is later reunited with her parents.
After Toby is caught up in the science lab disaster, Dr. Tenma blames himself—for both the accident and the fact that he never spent enough time with his son. He vows to commit himself to raising his new robotic son, but guilt and sorrow defeat him. Ultimately, though, he digs deep enough into the good side of his character to stand by Astro Boy’s side.
On pain of death, family friend Dr. Elefun refuses to power-down Astro Boy and tries to protect him.
A bikini-clad sunbather turns tan when Astro Boy rockets by her.
Young Toby is trapped with a rampaging robot that blows up. The boy is killed. (We don’t see him die; he simply disappears in the explosion.) Several human soldiers are tossed about in some of the battles. (None are ever shown to be seriously injured.)
Once Astro Boy discovers that he has built-in rocket boots and weaponry, the movie plays out in a series of high-action chases and battles: Quite a few robots are bashed, smashed and detonated, especially in some Roman Colosseum-style battles with Astro Boy. There are really never any truly scary moments—all the bam-boom violence is of a Saturday morning cartoon variety—but the BattleBots bouts do contain whirling blades, laser blasts and crunching thumps.
[Spoiler Warning] Later, the selfish, conflict-minded President Stone becomes part of a gigantic rampaging robot and starts destroying the city. He crushes and demolishes everything in his path until Astro Boy sacrifices himself in a blue core super-explosion. He saves the day but ends up battered and lifeless in a field. (He’s OK again before the final credits roll.)
Crude or Profane Language
HamEgg uses the phrase "freakin’ robots!" "Gosh" and "jeez" make an appearance or two each. Frustrated outbursts include "lug nuts!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Though we never see Toby hurt physically, his father’s anguish over his loss and, later, Astro Boy’s sadness that his dad no longer loves him could be intense for younger children.
In the midst of a crisis, a soldier’s face screen reads: "Body fluid status‑‑Sudden release."
To say I am an Astro Boy neophyte would be an understatement. I had heard of the anime original, but have never seen an episode. And for all I know I might have been the only one who hadn’t at the prescreening I attended for the new flick. As I walked to my seat, it was easy to tell from the buzzing groups I passed that I was outclassed and outnumbered.
In fact, upon hearing of my lack of enlightenment, the twentysomething fan-girl sitting next to me gave me a sad look and patiently tried to help me with a little background.
Did you know, for instance, that Astro Boy launched in a Japanese manga (comic book) in 1952? And that its creator, Osamu Tezuka, has since become known as the godfather of anime? Did you know that he vanquished TV’s anime airwaves in 1963?
After giving me a quick Comic-Con primer, though, I could see in my rowmate’s expression that I was still sorely unprepared for what I was about to see.
So she continued.
Did you know that April 2003 marked the jet-booted boy’s original birth date as penned by Tezuka? And that on that actual date in Japan, celebrations included fireworks, costume parades and cultural seminars? There was even a $1 million diamond-and-ruby-encrusted likeness made of Astro Boy.
By this point the lights were dimming and I was on my own. I gripped my pen and notepad and swallowed hard.
Ninety minutes later, I was grinning while fan-girl and her fellows were applauding wildly. It seems you don’t need a degree in Japanese culture or anime studies to connect with this treat, after all. In fact, pardon my Western sensibilities, but this was just like Pinocchio showing up on The Jetsons. I could totally relate to that!
The CG sparkles. The recognizable stars’ voices are colorful. Tezuka’s original juxtaposition of man-vs.-machine-vs.-man is clear. And the kid-friendly encouragements toward love, friendship, self-sacrifice and being heroic in the face of danger are smile-inducing and warm.
Here’s a spiky-haired superhero with "machine guns in his butt," as it’s put onscreen, but there’s nary a dark side to be seen.
As the theater began to empty, the real fans stayed glued to the screen while muttering excitedly to one another. I surreptitiously listened in, trying to look like I was interested in the Japanese caterer listings.
I was waiting for the verdict that I knew I wasn’t really expert enough to give. And then, there it was. "They got it right," one spectacled youth opined with a grin. The chorus of agreements and nodding murmurs around me said that consensus had been formed.
How could I disagree?