Astro Boy is as iconic and beloved as Mickey Mouse in his homeland of Japan. He is a much-adored pop culture mainstay that was created in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka, a remarkable and celebrated artist who has since become known as the "god of manga". The adventures of this robotic lad have been chronicled in both a manga series and a television show that ran from 1963 to 1966. The cartoon established the form of animation we know today as anime, and was successfully reworked in the 80s and again in 2003. Now, working with Imagi Entertainment, director David Bowers is set to unleash the magical story of this metal Pinocchio on audiences worldwide in an all-new animated feature film that will be hitting theaters in October of this year.
With a voice cast that includes Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, and Freddie Highmore as Astro Boy, Bowers and his hardworking team of animators have created something truly unique in the world of CGI cinema. This classic tale, which is set in the future, reestablishes Astro Boy's amazing origins, setting him on a search for his own identity that eventually leads the intelligent android into a netherworld of robot gladiators. Struggling to come to terms with his own lost history, Astro Boy is set on a path that finds the young robot battling to save Metro City and its inhabitants from certain doom.
Imagi is bringing Astro Boy to Comic-Con 2009 on Thursday, July 23rd, as part of Summit Entertainment's theatrical entertainment panel. At 10:15 am, Bowers and producer Maryanne Grager will host never-before-seen selected footage from the film, with Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell in attendance. A few weeks ago, Bowers and Grager invited us into their studio for a look this exciting new chapter in the history of Astro Boy, and they gave us a taste of what we can expect come October 29th.
The few selected scenes that we viewed remained incredibly faithful to the original world created by Osamu Tezuka, right down to the machine guns hidden in Astro's rear end. "This is the first big screen incarnation of the character," Bowers told us. "You get to find out who he is and where he comes from in this story. It is hard, because it's a very emotional tale. I was keen to find something to hang all of the humor and action on. I really went back to the father and son relationship that is found in the books. For those that don't know, Astro Boy is a robot that was created by a brilliant scientist to replace his dead son. This film explores all of the problems that come with that. So it does have a lot of emotion. It also has a lot of humor, and a lot of action-adventure."
Bower went on to introduce the clips, telling us more about the film, "The first scene we are going to show you is the birth of Astro Boy. We see his origins as he is created by Dr. Tenma. He is an extremely intelligent scientist who has just lost his son Toby, and he is heartbroken. He feels like it is his fault. Creating the robotic boy in Toby's image is his way of coping. Dr. Tenma eventually takes Astro home, but their average day doesn't quite work out the way he'd planned. Astro is a little different than Toby, and Dr. Tenma is disappointed. He ends up breaking the truth to Astro that he is not Toby. That he is a robot, and Dr. Tenma doesn't want him around anymore. Astro is heartbroken, and he flies out of the apartment. He has to come to terms with who he is. During this time, President Stone is using this blue energy power source to his own ends. With Astro away from home, the robot has been testing out his weapons, and he has shown up on the military's radar. The military tries to capture him."
Bower continued, "Later in the movie, we follow Astro Boy as he makes his way through Earth. A lot happens to him. He runs into a bunch of kids that he befriends. He meets a guy named Ham Egg that he believes will be a second father to him. Eventually, he has to make a choice. He can either go back to Metro City, or he can fly away from the people that haven't treated him so well. There is a lot of story to tell in this film. President Stone has activated a Peace Keeper robot, which becomes Astro's nemesis towards the end of our movie. It is an eight-foot tall robot that has the power to absorb anything around him. It will suck up chairs, it will grab your guns. And then it will use them against you. The thing has grown to twelve feet tall just by absorbing things around it. Astro flies into the city to confront this thing."
After viewing the beautifully rendered moments from the film, which keep Tezuka's iconic imagery in tact, Producer Maryanne Grager came out to talk with us. She took us through the history of Astro Boy, "I am sure you have all heard of Astro Boy. He was the first Japanese manga ever created by Osamu Tezuka. He is the Mickey Mouse of Japan. There is a statue in Tokyo. They have Astro Boy stores like we have the Disney Store here. He is a timeless, treasured icon in Japan. We are working very closely with Makoto Tezuka, Osamu's son, and the whole Tezuka estate. We have worked very closely with them for character design, and in the script development design."
The film is being produced in conjunction with Imagi's Hong Kong studio, and it has essentially become a twenty-four hour workday operation because of the time differences between the two countries. When the American Imagi workers get done rendering certain shots, they can hand them directly to their Hong Kong counterparts at the end of the work day. When animators come in the next morning, problems have been solved, questions have been answered, and the film has progressed. It's a great way to keep things moving. Los Angeles is the home base for Astro Boy's front end departments. Hong Kong is dealing mostly with the back end. The script department, the story and editorial departments, and all of the characters and sets are located in America. Once all of that work is completed, this detailed blueprint is handed to Hong Kong, where most of the animation has been done. Though both studios are on different continents, they operate and act as one team. And they are creating something truly exciting and unique.
Make sure to check out Astro Boy when he zooms into Comic-Con on July 23rd, and then don't miss his movie when it opens October 23rd, 2009.