Director: David Bowers Release Date: 5 February Review by Tara Judah For even the youngest Astro Boy fan, it’s a good twenty something years since the young robot with human emotions graced our television screens. And Astro is a boy with a past. Originally created as a manga series in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka (pretty much the daddy of manga in Japan), Astro saw his first ascent to fame on Japanese television in 1963 and by the 1980s Astro would start appearing on television screens all over the world, establishing the animated aesthetic that is now more commonly known as anime. Apparently Astro Boy already received something of resurgence in 2003 where a new series was produced for the 40-year anniversary of his birth, and whilst it was given a full series run on the BBC, it has never had a DVD release in the UK. Though it was as far back as 1999 when Sony Pictures Entertainment bought the rights to the film, it has taken up until now for the CGI version to come to a cinema near you. This is partly due to the continual changing hands that the film’s pre-production underwent; from involvement with live-action and animatronics with Jim Henson Productions (certainly a spectacle I’d like to have seen) to Hong Kong’s Imagi Animation Studios who decided to release a three picture distribution deal with Warner Bros., the Weinstein Company alongside TMNT and Gatchaman, right up until Summit Entertainment took over the distribution rights and put up and coming writer/director David Bowers (of Flushed Away (2006) fame) in the driver’s seat. So it’s fair to say that Astro Boy (2009) has endured many a hardship just to make it onto commercial cinema screens. Perhaps his greatest hardship yet is that the film was a box office flop in Japan and America, making something of a splash only in China where it found its way to breaking box office records for a CGI animated movie, and the UK market doesn’t appear to be so forgiving either. I think the film would certainly have benefited from a 3D release given the current climate where films such as Up (2009) and Avatar (2009) have paved the way for 3D as successful cinematic spectacle. Unfortunately, Astro Boy’s flat 2D rendering and sadly one dimensional storyline is really only going to appeal to that 2003 CBeebies market who have already had exposure to it. Astro Boy doesn’t in any way transcend the child/adult entertainment barrier and the content is entirely kiddy-friendly, no doubt good news for a whole hoard of parents out there, but certainly something of a kick in the teeth for the twenty/thirty-somethings amongst us who have waited most of our lives to see our favourite robot boy up on the big screen. Sure he looks like Astro Boy, he even runs and flies like Astro Boy, but where are his rosy red cheeks and, more importantly, where the hell is Astro Girl? I know it was a while before she hit the TV series as a type of younger-sister gift for Astro, but seeing as so many other plot developments have been ignored in favour of a coherent contemporary hour and a half “movie”, there’s no reason why they couldn’t go ahead some and give us Astro Girl too, particularly when a female sister type character- Cora, voiced by Kristen Bell - was created. That’s not to say that there aren’t any entertaining moments at all, in fact the addition of the RRF, the Robot Revolutionary Front, a group of Communist robots with British accents and one of whom is a fridge – yes, a fridge – was close to a stroke of popcorn genius. However these moments really are few and far between. The soothing tones of Donald Sutherland’s and Nic Cage’s voices are indeed another plus for the adult viewer, but set against the film as a whole are just not enough to engage with for the hour and a half duration of the movie. Though perhaps this is a result of necessity, for the majority of the film’s audience need to get up at regular intervals, what with them (almost) all being under the age of ten- a guesstimated average would sit at five. Five is a number that pertains to this film not only for the age of its young receivers, but also for its adult reception. Photobucket