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  • Jeff Beck

The Boy and the Heron: A Gorgeous Middling Entry from the Master Animator (4K/Blu-ray)


The Film:


When it was announced that master animator Hayao Miyazaki was coming out of retirement to bring us another film, it ignited great excitement from his avid fans from around the world who couldn't wait to see what wildly ambitious adventure he would add to his remarkable filmography, which already included beloved classics like "My Neighbor Totoro," "Spirited Away," "Princess Mononoke," and "Howl's Moving Castle." With anticipation running high, would the brilliant visionary be able to deliver yet another memorable animated classic to sit alongside these unforgettable entries in the genre?


"The Boy and the Heron" begins in Tokyo during World War II, where a young boy, Mahito (Voice of Soma Santoki/Luca Padovan), tragically loses his mother in a fire. Not long after, he moves outside of the city with his father Shoichi (Voice of Takuya Kimura/Christian Bale), who owns a factory, and his new step-mother, Natsuko (Voice of Yoshino Kimura/Gemma Chan), his mother's sister. While at his new home, Mahito comes in contact with a grey heron (Voice of Masaki Suda/Robert Pattinson), who entices him to come to a strange tower nearby in order to rescue his mother. He is almost taken there forcefully by the heron's minions, but is saved by his aunt's archery skills. Later on, an ill Natsuko wanders into the forest, causing Mahito to go look for her in the tower. However, after being deceived by an imitation of his mother, he is whisked away to an entirely different world, where he begins a strange journey to rescue his aunt and bring her home safely.


Over the decades, Miyazaki has taken us on many wild, imaginative, and memorable journeys, with stories featuring rich characters and deeply-felt emotions that have them lingering in your thoughts long afterward. When it comes to "The Boy and the Heron," his creativeness is certainly on full display, taking us into a world filled with fascinating creatures & supporting characters that either help or hinder Mahito on his quest to rescue his aunt. All of this is brought to life through the gorgeous animation of Studio Ghibli, whose stunning work remains unparalleled in the genre, and which provides yet another sumptuous visual feast for your eyes throughout this two-hour journey.


While nothing negative can be said of the film's remarkable look, it is strange to have to note that, throughout these two hours, it feels as though there's something missing to really bring it all together. I certainly wouldn't say that the film leaves you feeling empty per se, but rather that it feels as though there's somewhat less substance to be found here in both the story & characters than we're used to seeing in Miyazaki's more satisfying efforts (like the aforementioned "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Spirited Away"). It's a semi-intriguing story, with this young boy having to go off into this bizarre world to find his aunt, but there just isn't very much there to grasp on to in terms of particularly engaging material, or in regards to the protagonist's development.


By the end, you've indeed had a dazzling visual feast, but with a story & main character that didn't get quite as much attention, leading to an entry in Miyazaki's filmography that's not quite as memorable as most of his previous works. The animation & various designs do carry it a very long way, but when the same amount of effort isn't put into its most important elements, it can't be all that surprising that it doesn't linger in your memory nearly as long as those films where the time is taken to develop those vital fundamental aspects to a gratifying level. Ultimately, "The Boy in the Heron" is quite a sight to see, as Studio Ghibli films always are, but you'll find it hard to shake the feeling that there should've been more there to truly get you engaged in this bizarre little adventure.


Video/Audio:


This edition of "The Boy and the Heron" comes with the film on 4K (2160p High Definition HDR) and Blu-ray (1080p High Definition), both presented in 1.85:1 transfers of outstanding quality. The film looks absolutely gorgeous throughout the entirety of its two-hour runtime, doing a fantastic job of highlighting its stunning animation. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos/7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are marvelous, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and music in excellent quality. Overall, there's not a single complaint to be had about the wonderful treatment that the film has received for its debut physical release.


Special Features:


Feature-Length Storyboards

Interview with Composer Joe Hisaishi (10 Minutes)

Interview with Producer Toshio Suzuki (5 Minutes)

Interview with Supervising Animator Takeshi Honda (20 Minutes)

Drawing with Takeshi Honda (27 Minutes)

"Spinning Globe" Music Video (5 Minutes)


The film comes with a decent selection of extras that includes storyboards for the entire movie, intriguing interviews with select crew, and even a drawing tutorial with one of the film's animators. While there is a surprising lack of Miyazaki here, there's still plenty for fans to explore to learn more about the film.


Conclusion:


Hayao Miyazaki's "The Boy and the Heron" provides a sumptuous visual feast for the eyes with its gorgeous animation and fascinating creative designs, but unfortunately it comes up a little short in regards to substantial material for its story & characters, resulting in a stunningly beautiful, though ultimately middling, entry in the master animator's acclaimed filmography.


Score: 3/5


Available on 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


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