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San Diego Comic-Con International 2009
San Diego Comic-Con: Astro Boy

by Zac Bertschy,

The Summit Entertainment and IMAGI Studios Astro Boy panel began at 10:30am on Thursday, the convention's first full day of programming, in one of Comic-con's larger panel rooms. In attendance were stars Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, director David Bowers and producer Maryann Garger, and the panel was hosted by Jerry Beck from Cartoonbrew.com.

The panel welcomed a packed and enthusiastic audience; Beck began by saying a few words about Osamu Tezuka, and suggested that it was a fitting tribute to his legacy that the 40th annual Comic-con began with an Astro Boy panel. He then introduced the panelists to raucous applause.

Beck immediately began the discussion with Bowers, who spoke about the difficulty of adapting the original, nearly-sacred material for a wide audience in 2009; he said he wanted it to feel thrilling for today's audiences, so they'd feel the same way people felt upon seeing the original comics back in the 50's. His focus was on making the film fun and accessible.

Beck then asked Highmore about how he approached the Astro Boy character; he said he wanted to make Astro Boy more “modern”, and really craft the character into something of his own, and that the notion that Astro Boy is a “human trapped inside a robot's body” helped him identify with the theme of fitting into a society where you don't belong.

Kristen Bell remarked that this is her first voice-over for animation (Bell provides the voice-over for the live-action drama Gossip Girl), and that while there was ‘more work involved’ in doing live-action work, she had a lot of fun doing the voice-over performance and watching the film be put together.

Maryanne Garger then commented on the rest of the cast, which includes Nicholas Cage, Bill Nighy, Shaun Levy, Charlize Theron and a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson, which was announced at this panel.

Bowers introduced a handful of clips; a few comic-action setpieces which showcased the film's sense of humor and high-profile voice cast.

The panel then focused on Bell's character Cora, who wasn't in the comics and was created for the film; the character is intended to be a “foil” for Astro rather than a romantic interest (although obviously there are mild romantic elements involved, Highmore insisted the relationship is a “friendship”.)

Bowers then introduced an action sequence from near the end of the film, which featured Astro Boy battling the film's main villain… obviously chosen to show the eager audience that Astro's famous “butt cannons” are intact in this new version of the story.

The panel then opened up to questions from the audience, after Bowers gave a few final remarks about the tone of the film, which is clearly a comic action-adventure rather than a serious or dark drama.

The event concluded with the world premiere of the film's new trailer (although the trailer included some unfinished footage, and wasn't the final version).

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