Astro Boy (2009)

Rated: PG for some action and peril, and brief mild language.
Length: 94 minutes
Grade: CBCC=C+
Budget: $65 million
Box Office: $38 million (19 U.S., 19 Intl.)

Written by: Timothy Harris (Space Jam, Pure Luck, Kindergarten Cop, Twins, Brewster’s Millions, and Trading Places), based on the series by Osamu Tezuka.
Co-Written and Directed by: David Bowers (Flushed Away)
Starring the voices of: Freddie Highmore, Nicholas Cage, and Kristin Bell
With the voices of: Samuel L. Jackson, Charlize Theron, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, and Ryan Stiles.

In a future with two kind of beings (humans and robots) and two societies (the floating paradise of Metro City and the junk heap of Earth), a militaristic President sees a new energy source as the key to his political victory. Unfortunately for him, his lead scientist has used it to reincarnate his deceased son as a totally awesome robot boy whom he now regrets building.

Entertainment Value: C
The boys loved this. It’s fun. It’s action-packed. And the plot, though absurd in parts, is entertaining enough to not drive adults crazy. I wasn’t a fan of the voice work of Cage, who brings brooding and odd to a whole new level here. Also, the themes they wanted to incorporate are either off key or else now well-developed enough. So, overall, it’s average. Fine and fun in the manga tradition.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language A
The opening sequence leads to a young boy being killed by a violent robot. Otherwise, the violent fights between Astro Boy and the military or between Astro Boy and robots are the only ongoing issues. A whole group of orphan lives as scavengers on the junk-covered surface of Earth under the semi-benevolent leadership of a robot genius. Astro Boy turns out to have butt-guns and some robots expel oil as if bodily fluds. PG is easily the right rating, and both of our boys had no problems here.

Significant Content: C
Politicians are evil. Scientists, though sometimes virtuous, have serious flaws as well. If someone (or something, as a robot) acts like a human, it should be treated with dignity and respect. Self-sacrifice and mercy are the most truly human traits. People in grief do things they may later regret. Weapons in the hands of bad people are bad but in the hands of good people are good.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
There are many interesting themes here, however, I think the presentation of them is pretty poor. For instance, a lot of things in this movie take for granted the Three Laws of Robotics as formulated by Isaac Asimov. But just at one point when they’re about to be expressed, they aren’t. This leaves most of the audience out of the insight loop for the implications. Another thing is that even though the overall question of whether robots should be treated as humans or as slaves is a key idea in the movie, it never really gets any direct attention. Why, exactly is it wrong to treat Astro Boy as a mere machine, but it isn’t wrong to do this to Zog or even the bevy of Astro Boy’s opponents? This movie sort of makes me wonder whether some people don’t believe that slavery hasn’t ended yet. I mean it’s sort of meant to be a movie about racism and the mistreatment of non-group-members (perhaps about illegal immigrants or the servant classes) but what is the proposed solution? If they behave well and are as smart as we are, we owe them? That solves racism by replacing skin color (or robotic nature) with ability. It doesn’t seem to me as a Christian that an ontology built on performance is much more helpful than an ontology based on group membership or genetics. The trick isn’t getting us to extend our moral consideration to other beings like us in behavior, but to beings who are very unlike us in behavior and capacity such as the fetus, the elderly, the incompetent, and the disabled.

Discussion Questions:
~Ultimately, who is more human: Astro Boy or Hamegg? What are the key defining attributes of being human? Is human a matter of what you are or of what you do? How does a Christian answer that question?
~Is Dr. Tenma any different from President Stone or from Hamegg? In what sense are they all tyrants who want what they want and then don’t care about something once it is no longer doing their will? How are they good illustrations of the false notions people have about God? Is Dr. Elfun a better illustration of God’s real nature? Is Astro Boy a Christ figure? If so, between what groups or to which people does he bring reconciliation?
~Robots in this movie are treated as slaves or even mere material for destruction at the whim of humans. What do you think the rules for treating robots ought to be? Should they get more consideration the more human they seem to be? What about people? Are people sometimes more and sometimes less human and therefore deserving of varying degrees of moral consideration based on their abilities or contribution to society? Are there any machines currently in existence which we should treat with any level of moral consideration? Do you think there ever will be?
~Is there a difference between real freedom or character and simply being programmed to behave a certain way? What are the implications for parenting if there is?If Astro Boy had told the kids on Earth the truth from the very start, would they have accepted him and given him a chance to prove his real nature?
~What is the purpose of showing a future Earth which is a junk heap of old robots?
~Do you believe the universe is made up of two different motivational energies, like the blue and red power sources here? What is different between them? Is this a Biblical concept?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Toby being killed in the opening scenes.
~Hamegg turning Astro Boy into a fighting robot for the arena.
~Dr. Tenma changing his mind in the beginning and again in the end about Toby/Astro Boy. Was he motivated by actual love of his son or his own selfish desires in recreating him?
~Astro Boy defeating the Peacekeeper.

Overall Grade: C
There are some interesting things to talk about here and some entertaining moments (like the Robot Revolutionary Front), and it has enough action to please the kids. It’s definitely a boy movie, but not a great one. Good, but not great.

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