Astro Boy to take on Hollywood

Superhero robot Astro Boy has been fighting evil in Japanese anime, TV series and one animated feature for more than 60 years- but can he take on Hollywood?

Animal Logic CEO Zareh Nalbandian is betting he can after securing the rights to shoot a live-action, sci-fi superhero movie based on the character.

Nalbandian and his US agent CAA have circulated an outline of the project and he says there is strong interest from writers in the US and Australia.

He aims to shoot the film in Australia after Animal Logic completes the next two movies in the LEGO franchise, Ninjago, directed by Charlie Bean and based on the Cartoon Network animated series of the same name, for release in 2016; and The LEGO Batman Movie, which will feature the character voiced in the original by Will Arnett, directed by Chris McKay, and is slated for 2017.

Nalbandian has long been a fan of Astro Boy, the robot raised in a futuristic human world, which was created in 1951 by manga artist Osamu Tezuka. The first animation series was broadcast in 1963 and sold to NBC in the US the following year.

Since then there have been two TV series and, in 2009, a US-produced animated film featuring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell and Charlize Theron. Zareh has seen only snippets of the movie and reflects, “The production values were not high and it did not find a wide audience.”

While he was pursuing the idea of the live action movie, he discovered Mike Callaghan and Reuben Liber of US-based Ranger 7 Films had the same idea. Ranger 7 has a relationship with Tetsu Fujimara from Philosophia, who is close to Tezuka Productions Co., which has been run by Osamu's son since his death in 1989.

Nalbandian optioned the rights and will produce with Tezuka Productions, with Callaghan and Liber as EPs. He intends to hire a director after finding the writer most suited to the project, and then pitch the studios.

He describes the intended tone as “Guardians of the Galaxy meets Batman,” with a hip vibe built around the robot raised to think like a boy, and a wealth of colourful supporting characters.

Pre-production on both LEGO spin-offs has started at Animal Logic. Zareh expects Ninjago, which will follow Ninjas, samurais, and sensei fighting side-by-side against dragons, armies of snake men, and a once-banished warlord who seeks to return to power, to start production mid-year.

LEGO Batman, scripted by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) will follow. “It’s great to have two and a half years of animation ahead of us,” he said.