Astro Boy deserves at least a chance. Sure, it opens with the heavy-handed “save the environment” message that is now beyond tiring, but behind that is a lively, energetic animated effort.
The film has some other problems too, including multiple villains, some sluggish performances, and many of the modern animated clichés (insert kooky sidekicks here). Maybe those added up and killed the film’s box office, a disappointment for the studio and the underrated Imagi animation team.
Maybe a disconnect from the character was an issue as well. Astro Boy is a Japanese character icon, brought over as an import and popularized in the ‘80s in the US. Today’s kids likely have no idea who he is. That is a shame, especially since Astro Boy introduces a character with heart, charm, and yes, guns that come out of his butt (don’t ask).
Astro has a rather dramatic origin story, killed in a lab accident and brought back to life by his father in robot form. It creates a deep connection between the characters, Freddy Highmore’s voice work adding a bit of emotion to Astro where Nicolas Cage’s father figure does not. Astro learns of the world around and underneath him, the latter now the surface of the Earth littered with discarded robot parts.
Possibly a little misguided, the nearly destroyed Earth surface is home to a group of lively children, who seem to be having more fun sliding around and playing with chainsaws (!) than anyone in the floating Metro City above. That is a failure on the part of the “save the planet” message for sure, but at least fun to watch.
The rather elongated finale has Astro facing off against a giant robot destroying Metro City giant monster style. The animation takes hold, producing colorful destruction and lively brawling. Most of the film carries this same energy, with minimal downtime. Slightly generic sure, but it does not give you much time to think that way either.
Another astonishing CG effort, Astro Boy comes to Blu-ray from Summit in an AVC encode. The film opens with general 2-D animation, simple yet superbly sharp and defined. That sets the tone for the fully rendered movie to come, nearly flawless in all regards.
Astro Boy carries tremendous depth in each frame, aided by a brightly calibrated contrast and rich, inky blacks. Dimensionality is superb. The world of Metro City appears sanitized, and that is fair. The look of the static machinery, tall buildings, and limited texture offer little to take notice of. While the smooth color transitions are excellent and banding limited only to the sky (watch at 29:18 for an example, and then the purple sky to follow), some may be taken aback by the lack of texture. It is there, especially during close-ups. Clothing resolves patterns, and inside the car at 5:07 you can clearly make out some kind of plastic seating.
Once on the surface, the rustic look may lack a bit of color at first, but produces jaw dropping levels of detail. The world is loaded with millions of discarded robot parts, each fully defined and crisp even into the furthest parts of the frame. Even the rust texture can be seen as far as the image allows. That barely even compares to the remarkable grass at 47:53, blowing ever so slightly in the wind, each blade equally resolved as the metal parts. Look at the dirt ground as well, littered with small pebbles and markings. Even inside the run down buildings, rust, paint tearing, and wood textures are completely visible. It may not be as clean, but for pure hi-def beauty, it is everything the enthusiast is looking for.
The finale, taking place back in Metro City, is allowed to shine. The wonderful particle effects, including crumbling buildings and smoke, are spectacular. Any flaws are absent. As with most animated efforts, curved surfaces lead to a minimum level of aliasing (most will not notice) and certain high contrast edges produce the tiniest amount of ringing. Those issues are well within acceptable levels, and will only be noted by the more hardcore videophile.
Like the film itself, the DTS-HD audio mix is aggressive and enjoyable. The opening credits are accompanied by a rich, full main theme by John Ottman. Surround bleed is forceful, and fidelity on the high end is wonderful. This remains true during the film where prioritized dialogue, heavy action, and the score remain in check with each other.
The low-end gets a workout from the countless explosions, deep and beefy during some of the earlier attacks and finale. The giant robot delivers some fantastic thuds as it stomps around and smashes buildings, exactly the expectation. Oddly, the robot battles in the coliseum do not carry the same weight, lacking the assistance of the subwoofer, or at least as deeply extended as it is elsewhere.
The high end remains fine, especially as a robot begins an assault with metal saws. They clang against surfaces with fantastic clarity, free of any distortion. Separation between channels is superb, with localized effects noted in all action scenes. There is even some light ambiance, from cars passing by in Metro City and birds chirping on the surface.
One questionable portion of the mix is Donald Sutherland. Whether his voice was recorded via different methods than the others or it is something with the mix itself, it sounds off. Not only does it come across louder, it lacks distinction and clarity. It sounds compressed, lacking a clean, crisp nature the other actors are afforded. Being the main villain, he speaks quite often, so this is more than a minor issue.
Astro Boy comes with a little more than 30-minutes of bonus features, generally fluff featurettes like Inside the Recording Studio, a 10-minute piece on the voice actors. Designing a Hero shows viewers how to draw Astro Boy himself. Building Metro City looks at the world design and how it came to be.
Getting the Astro Boy Look takes you inside a promotional event where kids had their hair done up like Astro, plus shows you how to create the same look at home. Two shorts add a small level of laughs to the disc, and an image gallery remains.