Friday, June 04, 2010

Astro Boy Astro Sucks

Again the currents of life have kept me away from the playtime keyboard, thus the dearth of posts. I'll try harder.

Even though I still really should be applying any time I have to more pressing issues, I just gotta put this one out there, even if it keeps just one parent from letting their young child watch Astro Boy. FWIW, it's a re-make of a '60s Japanese Anime (sorta redundant, I know) TV series of the same name, and roughly the same story, according to wiki.


I've not seen (nor will I see) the original TV show, but I would hope that it handled the plot point of a child being rejected by his parent a bit more abstractly, or with more finesse, or just somehow better.

Basically, the government's lead scientist's son is killed when he's shut in a containment room with a rogue robot (also the scientist's creation). Said scientist then loses it, and in a three-day sleepless binge, creates a robot that looks like his dead son and loads all his son's memories into it (how he has those ready for download is left a mystery), so when it wakes up, it thinks it's really his son, and thinks it's human.

After a very short time, the scientist realizes this robot is not a replacement for his son, and amazingly cruelly rejects him/it.

As the rejected robot child flies away crying, I glance over at my 5-year-old daughter and to my horror see the wheels turning and the frown on her face. Like this guy mentions in his review, I immediately stopped the show and explained that this was just a movie, like all those Disney cartoons where the parents are snuffed or already dead by the time the show starts (though I express this concept in a much simpler and benign way as it's one of our family in-jokes*), and that real parents would never, ever, ever reject their child like that. I could tell it headed off the worry for the most part, but regretted I hadn't previewed the movie or at least read some Amazon reviews first.

She went off to play, and I wanted to see if the movie continued down it's bizarre little path. I'm sorry to report it's about the most emotionally depraved entertainment I've seen intended for children.

I think the guy in this review nails it when he applies the concept of the uncanny valley to the character's emotional landscape. No one outside of sociopaths act like this. I could imagine Ted Bundy seeing this as a child and going, "wow, cool movie." But about everyone else, and about every child, will react with muddled dismay to the way this child - even though it's a robot - is treated by nearly everyone in the flick.

One of the reviews I've linked to mentions how this is also very much like Kubrick's/Speilberg's AI, which it is. But AI is intended for adults. (Btw, Kubrick clearly borrowed this idea from Astro Boy's creator, Osamu Tezuka. See the 4th paragraph down in "Works" here.) And the boy in AI has a rather sweet redemption, where Astro Boy only is re-accepted by his father in kind of a throwaway scene.

Interestingly, this "child as robot" concept is best done in the now-defunct Nickelodeon series "My Life as a Teenage Robot". If you're gonna let your kid watch something, please let it be that.

*I think I may have already related this story, but once, when my daughter was watching some cartoon, the music started to swell and the characters all got concerned looks on their faces, and my eldest child who was about 5 at the time said, "Don't worry, Daddy. This isn't a Disney cartoon, so no parents are going to die." This was completely hers; neither my wife or I had pointed out that most Disney features lack parents or kill them off. We reference that and chuckle about it to this day.


Whisky Prajer said...

Fortunately for us, Astro Boy is a movie with zero appeal. I wish, however, that I'd been warned off watching The Iron Giant with the girls at too young an age. They'd internalized the whole Disney "snuff the parents" mentality, but the climactic scene in Iron Giant was beyond anything they could bear -- at least, at the ages of five and seven. Great film, but definitely meant for maturer audiences.

yahmdallah said...

So it didn't help when they saw the robot crawling back together?

Whisky Prajer said...

I tried again and again to hammer that home ("Almost like Jesus, right?") but no: the sight of him being methodically blasted to pieces was too traumatic to be salved over.

yahmdallah said...


Within the last few months, the 5-year-old finally really got the concept that Bambi's mother died. She handled it better than the older one. (We have a few acquaintances who hunt, so she knows people eat deer, which helped.) But that sure is a passage of childhood, isn't it?

Whisky Prajer said...

Eef - as neat and cute an introduction to Nietzsche's philosophy as you'll encounter this side of college.

yahmdallah said...

Yikes, do you suppose Felix Salten actually embedded Nietzsche-ism (is that a term?) into Bambi?

Whisky Prajer said...

There was enough of it in the air at the time (1942) that I doubt it was conscious. But, yeah: for all the "Thumper-Flower" hijinx-on-ice I think the bottom line for the storytellers was, at the least, brute Darwinism.

yahmdallah said...

In the book it certainly was. The movie drops a subplot where a fawn is taken (after its mother is killed) and raised by a human family. They return it to the forest when it's grown, but it gets killed because it walks right up to a hunter during hunting season.