FILM REVIEW — Miyazaki’s “Boy and the Heron” soars high

Published 12:02 am Friday, December 8, 2023

“The Boy and the Heron”

Studio Ghibli/GKIDS

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Voiced by Luca Padovan, Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan, Willem Dafoe and Keren Fukuhara

Rated PG-13

 3 Stars

The cinematic world mourned when it was announced that Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki would be retiring.

Well, we briefly mourned, as he followed up his retirement notice with another film release, and now, yet another with “The Boy and the Heron,” which arrives in theaters this weekend.

Set during World War II, this is the story of Mahito (Luca Padovan), a pre-teen who is evacuated to the countryside because of the war. He’s trying to deal the death of his mother and the fact his father has just married her younger sister.

That would be a tough life change for any kid, but that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming next.

A talking heron swoops in one day to say that Mahito’s presence is requested in another world. Unsure if the heron is friendly of evil, Mahito nevertheless follows the bird when his new stepmother goes missing.

He suddenly finds himself thrust into a world of magical creatures, powerful wizards and kingdom populated entirely by giant, warlike canaries.

As is the case with all of Miyazaki’s work, this is another visually stunning movie. The background animation is rendered as if it was set against a series of impressionistic watercolor paintings, while the foreground characters feature a more cartoony feel.

Those oddball creatures give the film much of its humor. Studio Ghibli films have always featured an intriguing menagerie of talking animals and mystical spirits.

These characters won’t be quite so foreign for Japanese audiences, but to our American eyes and ears, these are magical creatures indeed.

“The Boy and the Heron” isn’t all fun creatures and a grand, pre-teen adventures, as this fairy tale deals with the serious issues of loss and understanding your place in the universe.

Miyazaki has never been afraid to create fairy tale cinema where his young protagonists are forced to deal with real-world issues, even if they are set in a fantastic universe.

It’s this impulse that elevates his movies from being much more than just a series of cartoons for kids.

I don’t think that I’m alone in this assessment, as is evidenced by the roster of A-list movie stars who have signed on to provide the English language voice cast.

Be aware that the film is being released into theaters in both a dubbed and a subtitled version. I generally recommend seeing a movie in its original language but given the impressive animation and the fun voice cast, I think that the dubbed version is worth seeing as well.

I will say that I don’t think that “The Boy and the Heron” is one of Miyazaki’s best efforts. It does take a while to get going, and the story is overly complicated.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare this film to some of his earlier masterpieces, but be content to know that this latest effort is still very good, and certainly worth seeing on a big screen of a local movie theater.

And the best news of all?

Rumors are that Miyazaki is already at work on yet another film.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.