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London Film Festival: “Astro Boy” and enjoyable environmentalism

Mark Farnsworth is currently reviewing selected films from the London Film Festival.

Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga strip “Astro Boy” has just received a bubblegum and lipstick makeover in David Bowers’ super-spruced remake.

High above the Earth is the floating splinter of utopia: Metro City. Humans live an ideal life of peace and leisure, their every need tended to by robots doing the “jobs we don’t want.” When those chores include phoning parents and raising children, we soon get the idea that all is not quite right in this paradise.

Below the fortunate few in Metro City, the Earth has become an immense landfill site, littered by the discarded remains of Metro City’s old robots. This disposable society rides roughshod over their under-class neighbours without a second thought for the environment – sound at all familiar?

In their gleaming towers, well-meaning scientists and the architects of this brave new world, Tenma and Elefun, have a crisis of conscience; should they continue to work with the military in order to keep the funding for their blue core energy source? Tenma is pragmatic, Elefun an idealist, but both are at the mercy of General Stone and his killer robot, the Peacekeeper.

astro_boy_01For a kids’ movie, “Astro Boy” does not pull its punches. Tenma’s son Toby is killed when the Peacekeeper goes berserk, powered by the blue core’s evil twin – the red core. Grief stricken Tenma rebuilds him faster, stronger and better. But can this Frankenstein really replace his son with a future-proof android, even one with his son’s implanted memories?

The film, however, is not all doom and gloom. The new Toby embarks on a “Pinocchio”-like journey of discovery through Metro City and beyond. Bowers populates his film with some great comic turns from Matt Lucas’ leader of the Robot Revolutionary Front, Sparx, to Nathan Lane’s Faginesque Ham Egg. He also handles some very deft set pieces including the robotic gladiator arena and the neon and laser heavy-metal showdown. Plus lines like “I’ve got machine guns in my butt?” make the kids spit out their popcorn in hysterics.

Like all the best kids’ CGI, “Astro Boy” mixes the darkness and light with broad humour and references for adults to laugh at. It’s a heady mix of “Star Wars,” “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” “A.I.” and the 2000AD comic strip “Robo-Hunter.” The animation is brazen and wide-eyed, but it’s the subtle details that really make the film. Flowers and plants, nature reclaiming its own, beautifully cover one rusting robot – long since deactivated and now at peace on Earth.


Mark Farnsworth

Senior Film Writer Mark Farnsworth teaches Film in East London and is currently working on two screenplays, The Mysteries and Fair Access. He also writes the Oh/Cult section for Brokenshark.co.uk.