The well-established animation company Funimation just recently hosted a VIP screening for Mamoru Hosoda's critically acclaimed The Boy and The Beast - which we were fortunate enough to attend. Did the film live up to the hype set by his previous works? The answer to that would be a resounding yes...and no.
In terms of the films plot, The Boy and The Beast tells the tale of Ren, a 9 year old boy struggling with the recent loss of his mother and the abandonment of his father. It's at this point in his life that Ren encounters Kumatetsu, The Beast of Jutengai "The Beast Kingdom." Ren quickly becomes accustomed to the bizarre Kingdom filled with unique creatures with animalistic features. Among them are the hog faced Hyakushūbō, rabbit like Sōshi and monkey-esque. Tatara. These are just a few of many characters interwoven into Ren and Kumatetsu's story. It's here that Ren encounters Ichirōhiko, the overarching villain of the film - but we'll get to him later, much like the film did.
One of many recurring themes in The Boy and The Beast is the transition from childhood to adulthood and the role ones family plays in our life experiences. Grief, and the anger associated with grief, plays a large part in moving Ren's character forward and backward from time to time. Kumatetsu, who remained isolated for a good portion of his life, took on the responsibility of loving, raising and teaching Ren while Ren in turn taught Kumatetsu how to be more compassionate. We found that Kumatetsu was surely the most fleshed out character, and he was the easiest to become attached to for his rough around the edges attitude – yet still found the time to show heart in multiple circumstances.
While the films strong suit definitely lies with the buildup of Ren and Kumatetsu's relationship, mid way through the film takes many unnecessary turns. For example, a few too many themes are introduced as Ren becomes interested in the human world since his disappearance due to the introduction of Kaede. As interesting of a character Kaede was, she became his initial connection to the human world more than half way through the film. The transition between Ren's diverse interests, in the Beast world and Human one, seemed occasionally out of place. While growing up with Kumatetsu, Ren never gave any indication of missing the place he came from. The incident is initially an “accident” however the film could have benefited from hints throughout his childhood.
While Ren remains torn between The Beast and Human world, we're unexpectedly introduced to the son of Iōzen- a peripheral character who takes on more of a central role close to the end of the film which was more than a little jarring. Ichirōhiko and Ren have more similarities than one would previously anticipate. However, the introduction of a villain so late into the film proved to be counterproductive. It made The Boy and the Beast feel like an entirely separate entity by creating a vast division with the premise and the newly introduced second act. In fact, the major change in plot came at a moment one would expect the film to end. Others may have embraced the darker tone – but the uncharted direction needed some type of smooth transition.
The anime film contained artwork that in one way was excellent, and in another, not particularly enjoyable. The surroundings in The Boy and The Beast were some of the most memorable additions of the art, with gorgeous settings that embraced deeper shades effortlessly. The animation of the beasts on the other hand left us feeling disinterested in a majority of the creatures from the “Beast Kingdom.” Aside from the animal-infused designs, the humans and backdrops of The Boy and the Beast made the art more of a pro than a con.
To conclude, The Boy and the Beast has a lot going for it, but sometimes losses itself in trying to cover more themes than it has time for. A portion of the plot is effective, yet occasionally struggles – which represents most aspects of the anime film. In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives in The Boy and the Beast, but you should be prepared for a movie that can leave you feeling either moved, unfulfilled, or a little of both.
The Boy and the Beast arrives in select theaters on March 4th!
Final Rating: 7/10