Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Astro Boy

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:Rated PG for some action and peril, and brief mild language.
Profanity:Brief schoolyard language
Violence/Scariness:Intense peril and violence for a PG movie, many guns, (offscreen) death of child
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:October 23, 2009
DVD Release Date:March 16, 2010
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and peril, and brief mild language.
Profanity: Brief schoolyard language
Nudity/Sex: None
Alcohol/Drugs: None
Violence/Scariness: Intense peril and violence for a PG movie, many guns, (offscreen) death of child
Diversity Issues: None
Movie Release Date: October 23, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 16, 2010

A show of hands, everyone. If you think it’s a good idea to begin a movie for children by killing off a young boy in an industrial accident as his father looks on, raise your hand. Anyone?
I didn’t think so. And yet, that is how Astro Boy comes to be in this updated version of the Japanese animated series that achieved popularity in the U.S. as a television series in various versions over the years and more recently as a computer game. The title character (voice by an Americanized Freddie Highmore) is a robot re-boot created by brilliant scientist Dr. Tenma (voice of Nicolas Cage) to replace his son Toby, who was killed at Dr. Tenma’s lab when he tried to get in to see an experiment. Devastated by the loss, the scientist creates a super-robot programmed with the memory and mind of his dead child. And then he rejects the robot as an inadequate substitute. Even if the rest of the movie were “The Care Bears Meet My Little Pony,” the loss and grief of the first 20 minutes are so totally dissonant that the film cannot recover.
It’s like “Pinocchio” crossed with “Blade Runner” as Astro Boy goes through an existential crisis in discovering that he may have Toby’s memories and emotions, but he also has hands and butt cheeks that turn into artillery. He ends up being treated as a human by robots and a robot by the humans he meets, abandoned children living on the planet that everyone else has left because it is deemed no longer habitable (and yet somehow they are able to order pizza). In the midst of all of the shoot-outs there are some moments that have charm and some images that show some wit, especially an enormous junked robot that Astro brings back to life with a charge from his blue power source (unfortunately carrying the initials of an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory). But then the President (voice of Donald Sutherland) wants to use Astro’s technology for evil, and everything comes down to shooting. Any nuance or imagination or point is lost in the battle, and so is any reason to see this film.


Parents should know that this film has a lot of violence and peril for a PG, some graphic, with many guns and explosions. A child is killed (off-camera) and his father is devastated. There is brief schoolyard language.
Family discussion: How was Astro Boy like Toby and how was he different? Which of Astro Boy’s powers would you like to have?
If you like this, try: the original series and “Jimmy Neutron”

  • Tom Finnigan

    “A show of hands, everyone. If you think it’s a good idea to begin a movie for children by killing off a young boy in an industrial accident as his father looks on, raise your hand. Anyone?”
    This is how the original Astro Boy comic begins too, and that was aimed towards kids in Japan back in the 1950s. Changing this would have ruined Astro Boy’s context.
    Anyway, death is not something that should be hidden from kids; kids need to learn the reality of how death hurts people. After all, Bambi’s mom dies in the film Bambi (not in the very beginning, though).

  • Tom Finnigan

    However the boy’s death is different in the original comic. In that comic he was driving a car and ends up in an accident.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Tom. I know Toby is killed in the original comic, and in some versions abandoned by his father, too. And I have often said that without some peril, tension, or violence you don’t have a story; you have a Barney video. I support the “uses of enchantment” view about the enduring pull of stories — myths, fairy tales, Shakespeare — that feature violence. But everything depends on how it is done, and I do not believe the violence in this film is appropriate for children.

  • Alice

    Hmm… lots of Japanese fiction aimed at children has featured violence of and beyond this caliber over the decades, and yet they have such a low crime rate over there. I think American parents should worry less about how much violence their children are being exposed to and start focusing more on raising intelligent children who know how to process it.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Alice! As you can see, I loved “Coraline” and “Monster House” and other scary movies, but it is all about context and tone, and I felt this one was way off.

  • Papanilolo

    I think this movie is different from others pixar movie, it has lot of japan style added to it. Too bad this movie shows a little boy who died at the beginning of the movie. But somehow this movie is very cool and I’ve been waiting for long time for this movie. I hope You enjoy it.

  • LA mom from Japan

    Hi, Ms Nell Minow. I am always looking forward movie mom talk on Cost. I love it! I listen to Cost only Friday to listen to your reviews.
    I watched the movie with my 10 years old daughter and my husband. It was great!
    I was born and raised in Japan, so I used to watched Astro Boy TV series when I was kid. I was 5 years old when I watched it (now 37). Astro boy was using cellphone in the sky in 2003 and it was make-believe. Original stories were created 60 years ago.
    I am so happy to be able to watch Osamu Tezuka’s animation in US. He created so many good stories that I want everyone lives in US to watch.
    The good thing in story is that the Astro boy has warm heart that is difficult for real human to have. He forgive even bad guys at the end.
    Did you know Osamu Tezuka created original “Lion King” 60 years ago. Somebody stole the story and sold it to Disney. However, Tezuka didn’t sue Disney, instead he said “The most important thing is that many people enjoy the story.” I think “forgiveness” used to be Japanese culture even though many Japanese forgot.
    Tezuka passed away few years ago, however, I think he is happy in the heaven that Disney made Tezuka’s movie now…

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much, LA Mom. What a magnificent comment! I thought the animation in this film was excellent, and a great tribute to Tezuka’s original. Astro Boy is a wonderful character, and I like his Japanese name better: Mighty Atom, and his message of forgiveness, in the post-war context, is inspiring. Thank you for this reminder, and best wishes to you and your family.

  • TTT

    Tezuka didn’t “invent” The Lion King. He had another story about lions that was completely different. There are far more similarities between the original Tezuka Astroboy and Disney’s “Pinocchio” which had came out 20 years earlier–did Disney “invent” Astroboy?

  • LA mom from Japan

    Hi, Ms. Minow. I gave you a wrong info. (Maybe you noticed though)
    Tezuka passed away 20 years ago and the comment was from his family or production.
    I remember the scene from Tezuka’s lion story that the a sacred baboon raised baby white tiger at the top of the hill and many kind of animals were celebrating. At least the scene is exactly same. Story was very similar. However, I did not blame about it since he learned lots of things from Disney before he created the story. I admit that the he copied Pinocchio. You are right.

  • Victor Nemo

    Astro Boy was an outstanding movie. It`s a great movie for kids. My friends and I saw it today. On the edge of our seat, we laughed and talked about what we thought was going to happen next. If you like action packed animation, Astro boy is your movie to see!

  • Sandra D.

    Astro Boy is hands down the best animated film this year – at least in my family’s opinion. It’s so refreshing to see an animated character that’s as noble as Astro (must every male cartoon character behave like Bart Simpson?) Astro is warm, vulnerable yet courageous. He’s a great character for kids to see and emulate. And the film itself is one of sheer fun – the visuals are fantastic – and the emotion in the film is honest and straightforward; there are moments that are genuinely touching, moments that break your heart, but that only strengthens the story’s overall impact. There are plenty of laughs, as well, and some wonderful voice acting which adds so much to the characters. Kristen Bell’s Cora, Astro’s friend/love interest, is a terrific girl character – smart, strong, but not in a blatant I-am-woman-hear-me-roar way (ALSO refreshing). Nicholas Cage does a great job as the grieving Dr. Tenma, Astro’s creator/father, and Nathan Lane does a splendid job as the oily, Fagin-like Hamegg. But the real standout is Freddie Highmore (of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Finding Neverland”) as Astro. He made the title character so lovable and endearing that you wish he were real. All in all, I really can’t say enough good things about this movie; it was a real revelation. My family liked this movie better than “Up”, “Wild Things”, “Ponyo” – it beats them all. Yes, it begins rather tragically, but it was handled well and contributed to the heart of the movie. This film gets a 10/10 from me. We may go see it again!

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks for a great comment, Sandra! This is just what I love to see — a very specific, vivid, enthusiastic appreciation of a film that gives me a reason to give it another try. All best to you and your family.

  • Dan Rush

    I’d like to point out that many of the artists who did the Lion King were inspired by Tezuka’s “Kimba the White Lion” which many of them grew up with.
    Actually Tezuka is an example of “Revolving cultures”, a man influenced by American artists who went on to inspire American artists. A little known fact about Astro is that his skin color, black trunks and red boots are a tribute from Tezuka to his favorite American cartoon character “Mighty Mouse”.
    I got a chance to meet the man in person when I was serving in Japan with the US Navy in 1986, I still have my most tresured hand drawn Astro Boy. Tezuka was an amazing man.

  • Nell Minow

    Thank you, Dan! I only recently learned about “Kimba the White Lion” and its many parallels to “The Lion King.” I love your notion of “revolving cultures,” a sort of global melting pot that goes back to the days when Marco Polo brought pasta from China to Italy. Great comment.

  • Yurk C.

    From a child’s standpoint, this movie was both enjoyable and relatable. It provides a good roll model for younger children and the hiatus from the standard of kid’s films where no one ever dies and it’s completely comprised of goody-two-shoes filler. I loved this movie and I give it a 10/10, because even if Z.O.G may coincedentally stand for something, who cares? No kids will notice. As a thirteen year old, I find that this constant moron treatment crammed down my and my peer’s throats, keeping children shielded from the real world really makes me mad.

  • Nell Minow

    An excellent comment, Yurk C! Many thanks. I always like to hear from those who find more to like in a movie than I do. Just a note however; I do not object to movies that show the “real world” to children, including the depiction of fear, death, and grief. But that requires context and proportion I did not find in this film. And I find a bit of inconsistency in your making the point that the ZOG reference will be over kids’ heads but that we should respect their intelligence and curiosity and allow them to see “real world” material.
    Thanks again and I hope you will return to let me know what you think about the movies you see.

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  • Fashiolista

    kids can’t drive robot cars! (why not? if it’s a robot car doesn’t it drive itself?) Anyhoo, Toby csrehas, dies the dad has a bit of a mental breakdown.In order to console himself over the death of his son he decides to make his new robot modeled after his dead son Toby except with the added advantage of being able to shoot lasers from his ass. Astro Boy malfunctions and goes on a destructive spree across the city. His father goes out in a mech to save him but then the mech malfunctions and starts destroying things too. Astro Boy comes to his senses and saves his father who professes his love despite Astro Boy being a robot and then the city has a ticker tay parade for him.As a reward for saving the city from uh ..himself, Astro Boy and his father are sent on a cruise. While on this cruise, Astro Boy has dinner with his father and a woman quite snootily proclaims Ooh I didn’t know we were going to have to eat with robots. Astro Boy accidently knocks over the table and his dad says You’re not my son, you’re just a robot! (but he just said he doesn’t care that Astro Boy is a robot and loves him anyway).So Astro Boy runs off discovers that the ship is about to hit an iceburg so he saves everyone, unfortunately he has run low on power so some guy from a circus finds him and shoves him in a suitcase while his father searches for him. Episode 1 The End.All I can say to that is lolwut?

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