Sometimes living in France is a good thing; while the apparently catastrophic Norm of the North was released this weekend in the United States, French cinemas got another family film instead: The Boy and the Beast. The new Mamoru Hosoda movie was a hit last summer in Japan, and it just opened in France this week. It will arrive in the US soon (12th February), yet there is still no official date for the UK, but hopefully it will open in 2016 as well.
So yes, The Boy and the Beast is indeed better than Norm of the North appears to be. Read the review below to find out why.
In Jutengai, a Kingdom inhabited by anamorphic Beasts, the Lord is about to retire and is looking for a replacement. There are two potential successors: Iozen, a popular boar-looking father of two; and Kumatetsu, a rude and lonely fighter who looks like a bear.As Kumatetsu is walking through the human world, he finds Ren, a 9-year old boy who recently lost his mother and now lives on the streets of Tokyo. Ren follows the Beast to Jutengai, where he will train alongside the Beast.
There are many things to love in The Boy and the Beast. In fact, pretty much every aspect of the movie is enjoyable, at least. I'm not saying it's perfect; but even when one of the movie's facet is flawed, there is something to like about it. But we'll get on the flaw(s) later.
For now, let's talk about everything that works. First of all, The Boy and the Beast is a gorgeous-looking movie. The effects are amazing and help create some memorable action sequences, the colour-palette goes from bright in Jutengai to a surprisingly dark and monochrome Shibuya, and the Beasts are superbly designed.
Mamoru Hosoda makes perfect use of the traditional animation medium, with exaggerated expressions for example; but the director also applies some CGI in clever ways to enhance visually some of the scenes. It's not too much, and never feels out of place.
When I was telling earlier in this review that aspects of The Boy and the Beast were flawed but still enjoyable, I was mostly talking about the story. It's good; great even in some parts, but I felt some mistakes were made.
What I liked about it was the way the main characters interact. Ren (who is renamed Kyuta by Kumatetsu) and the Beast have a nice bonding father-son-like relationship, particularly in the first half of the movie. In his screenplay, Mamoru Hosoda plays with the rules of the classic martial arts (à la The Karate Kid) coming of age tale and there's quite a lot of broad humour, often coming from the Jutengai secondary characters. There are also more emotional bits, and a good balance is generally found between the fun and the sad moments.
Now, the Jutengai stuff is so good and works so well that when the story goes back to the Human world, the movie suffers. It feels bland in comparison; the Tokyo characters, in particular, aren't very interesting. My guess is that Hosoda went for a thematic element (about how fighting others is really a fight with yourself) with this part of the story - and it does make sense - but ultimately I think it hurts the film more than it helps it. The second act overcomplicates what could (should?) have been a pure coming of age tale, and Hosoda, as a result, has a difficult time tying all the loose ends.
The Boy and the Beast isn't too long (110 minutes), but I wish more of the running time was dedicated to the Kyuta-Kumatetsu relationship. Instead, I feel some of the movie is wasted, as The Boy and the Beast isn't at its best when Kumatetsu is not around.
That being said, The Boy and the Beast is a great film. It has great characters, epic battle sequences, genuine emotion and maybe most importantly: it's fun. If you ever have the choice to watch this or Norm of the North, don't even hesitate, and go for the Mamoru Hosoda movie.