The Boy and the Heron

Verdict: The Boy and the Heron does not reach the heights of Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away and may be too weird for some

  • Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Robert Pattinson
  • December 26th 2023
  • Hayao Miyazaki

A young boy discovers a portal to a fantasy world after he moves to a new home.

Hayao Miyazaki, a legend at Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, came out of retirement to write and direct The Boy and the Heron, his first film since 2013’s The Wind Rises.

Set during World War II, The Boy and the Heron follows 12-year-old Mahito Maki (voiced by Soma Santoki) after he relocates from Tokyo to the countryside to live with his father Shoichi (Takuya Kimura), the owner of an air munitions factory, and his new pregnant wife Natsuko (Yoshino Kimura), Mahito’s aunt-turned-stepmother.

Mahito, who has been pestered by a grey heron (Masaki Suda) since his arrival, ventures into the woods to find a missing Natsuko and is drawn to a mysterious tower that leads to an alternate fantasy world.

Like every Studio Ghibli film, there is a limitless sense of wonder and imagination in The Boy and the Heron. This movie is filled with weird fantastical elements such as oversized parakeet guards, a talking grey heron, and villainous pelicans and these look amazing visually and are fun to enjoy on a surface level.

However, some viewers might find it too bizarre to connect with it in a meaningful way. Some people have discovered layers and deeper meanings to what you see on screen but it may not resonate with others.

The main message of the film – Mahito learning to accept his mother’s death and Natsuko as his stepmother – was a worthy one but the journey to get there felt haphazard and incoherent, particularly in the third act. How the tower worked was not explained well and it was sometimes hard to make sense of what was happening.

Also, at 124 minutes, the film was far too long for what it was and could have easily been a little shorter.

The Boy and the Heron does not reach the heights of Miyazaki’s landmark works like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro and this isn’t the most accessible entry point to Studio Ghibli. However, existing fans of the company should find some joy here.

Please note: This is a review of the original Japanese version, not the English dubbed version, which features famous voices such as Robert Pattinson, Florence Pugh and Christian Bale.

In cinemas from Boxing Day.

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