Jerry Beck of Cartoon Brew moderated the panel at Comic-Con International last Thursday featuring the director of “Astro Boy,” David Bowers, as well as producer Maryann Garger and stars Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell. CBR News listened as cast and crew discussed the challenges in bringing "Astro Boy" to the 3-D screens of the era in which the series was original set, the 21st Century.
Beck began by asking Bowers about placing the character into a film for 2009. "Well, it wasn't easy," the director began. "Looking at the original, it was created in the 1950s. Although it's a little retro now, it was very modern and cutting edge at the time." While the character is beloved over the world, Bowers was concerned with introducing him to a new audience. "I want them -- because this is the first time they're seeing him -- to feel the same way as people in the 1950s felt.” However, Bowers also felt it was important to "look at what made the original terrific." In building from the material, he explained, "I stuck very closely to original story of Astro which is very emotional and used that as a spine."
Highmore feels Astro is a character people can easily relate to. "In Astro's case it's being a boy trapped inside a robot's body, but I think we can all identify with the feeling of wanting to fit into society and being accepted, either in society or into a group of friends or, in Astro Boy's case, into a family," he said.
Bell's character, Cora, is an invention of the filmmakers and not from the stories of Osamu Tezuka. Bowers' inspiration for the character instead came from the literature of England. "When I was looking at the story and trying to figure out what kind of movie to make, I took a lot inspiration from ‘Oliver Twist,’ which was the story of a kid who doesn't really have a home to go to and goes through a lot of adversity," the director revealed. "Cora is really the Artful Dodger of this [film]. Cora is just smart. She's resourceful. She has a little bit of power."
In the film, Cora leads a group of kids on the rundown surface of the Earth, away from the gleaming buildings of Astro's Metro City. "She's got a very tough exterior and a very soft interior that you don't really see until the end of the film," Bell explained. "She befriends Astro and they have whole arc of being torn apart and feeling betrayed; hopefully coming back together."
The film marks Bell's first vocal performance in animation. "There's a lot of work that goes into doing live action because you're on-set all day. You sort of have to be at the beck and call of the camera when it's set up. You have much longer days," she said. In comparison, she enjoys getting to see the film evolve from sketch to final rendered animation. "It's kind of neat to be a bystander and see it all come to life.”
During the panel, two clips screened. One featured Astro being chased by the robots of President Stone, voiced by Donald Sutherland. The second featured Astro fighting the President's ultimate weapon, the Peacekeeper. Both clips are of high quality, though the second clip featured a couple of incomplete shots. Both featured a mix of action and comedy that entertained the Comic-Con audience. The second clip also featured Astro's discovering his buttguns.
Beck asked Bowers how working at Aardman, the animation house responsible for the "Wallace & Grommit" series and "Chicken Run," informed his approach to "Astro Boy." "They're very different [films], but they do come from a similar place," he said. The key similarity, to Bowers, is the tone of the comedy moments in the film. "I grew up in Northern England with an English sense of humor. Aardman is fantastic at finding dangerous situations and finding what's funny in it or a twist in it; finding a way to keep it believable. Hopefully that's what shines through. There's a lot of comedy in 'Astro Boy.'"
During the Q&A, a member of the audience asked about "easter eggs" from the previous manga or anime series. Bowers answered, "Yes, there's quite a few, [but] I'm not going to give away all of them. We have Osamu Tezuka himself in the movie quite a lot." Tezuka's son will voice the character in the Japanese version of the film. "There are a lot of characters from the 'Astro Boy' universe in there. You'll see them."
Another fan asked about the sound work in the film. "We have an amazing sound supervisor, Richard Anderson," Bowers revealed. Anderson worked on films like "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Arc." "There's this fantastic list; all films I grew up with and loved. Every now and then I'm trying to get him to slip in a little bit of the Millennium Falcon [sound] here and there. He put a bit of 'War of the World,' the original, into 'Astro Boy,' which was delightful."
Garger mentioned composer John Ottman just recorded the score in London. "That's really elevating the movie as well," she said.
When one audience member asked if anything in the film moved the voice actors emotionally, Bell said, "There are scenes where you need to get emotional." Becoming involved in the material is important to her voice performance. "You can't really fake it just because you're not in the mood. Then you hear it back and you go, 'Oh god, that's crap!' Sometimes it is. Sometime you sound like you're trying to get out of a speeding ticket."
Bell was also asked about a potential "Veronica Mars" films. While she says she is ready to do it, there is "not enough enthusiasm" at the studio to mount a feature. She suggested a fan campaign to show the studio the market is ready to hand over money. "We just have to write letters. Maybe get another plane. Who got that plane? No one knows what I'm talking about. Someone got a plane to fly by the CW with a sign."
Bowers then said, "I think a really, really great way to show your support for a ‘Veronica Mars’ movie is to turn out in droves for 'Astro Boy.'"
Asked if Astro will appear in his classic short pants, Bowers indicated it would indeed happen. "When Dr. Tenma created him, he looks like the Astro that we all know and love," Bowers explained. "By the end of the movie, when he's sort of figured out who he is and what his destiny is, he absolutely, one hundred percent is the classic Astro Boy."
The panel ended with a look at the unfinished theatrical trailer for the film.
"Astro Boy" will be released in theatres October 23.