It has happened again, another classic has been hijacked by Hollywood to be “re-imagined for modern audiences”. The debate about remakes has become as tired as the studios’ imaginations, but I fail to see what is the necessity to Americanise an anime classic such as ASTRO BOY with this new feature-length 3D version. It is clearly aimed at a young audience, because in the West adults don’t watch cartoons, especially ones about robot children, unless they are forced to accompany their children. Japanese audiences, on the other hand, don’t make that distinction and grown-ups are just as fond of anime as children are. Of course, Hollywood executives are enamoured by CGI animation, and think that children no longer want to watch drawn animation. Let’s face it, children will watch anything, which explains why the Chuckle Brothers are still on air, so they would have been just as happy to watch the original ASTRO BOY anime as the shiny new 3D version. Thankfully, John Lasseter, now head of Disney Animation, and Hiyao Miyazake, know differently and under Lasseter’s leadership the House of Mouse has made its first 2D line animation in years, and Studio Ghibli is still continuing to make unique animated movies, such as PONYO, released in cinemas in the UK on 12 February.
Some years back the Japanese revived another of their classics TETSUJIN 28, with a new animated series and a live action movie. However, the Japanese have respect for the source material. On the other hand, this Hollywood ASTRO BOY is aimed at kids with no knowledge of its origins, and, as such, is quite entertaining for the target audience and their unwilling parents. The tale of this cybernetic Pinocchio has plenty of action, humour and sentimentality as the boy-robot comes to terms with rejection and the discovery he is not human, as he makes new friends with a group of outcasts and goes on to save the day – of course.
The film has an incredible voice cast, with the likes of Freddie Highmore in the lead role, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland and Bill Nighy, along with other cameos. While this looks impressive on the poster, it doesn’t really translate into an ensemble piece worthy of their names. For the most part these are screen actors who really on their physical presence to enhance their performance, and this is especially true for Cage, who is better known for his various tics than the range of his vocal delivery, which are perfectly displayed in Werner Herzog’s soon-to-be-released BAD LIEUTENANT.
While this film doesn’t break any new ground, it might encourage some children to explore the original anime and find other gems such as TETSUJIN, or even classics such as AKIRA, before the Hollywood remake hits cinemas.
ASTRO BOY is in cinemas now.