Reviewing When Marnie Was There

I’ve been meaning to post this for quite a while, actually, but I’ve never been in the right frame of mind for it. Now? Yeah, it’ll do. Doesn’t mean I’ll be able to get to the end of this without some emotional response though…

So, a while back, I posted a list of my favourite animated movies, and whilst for the most part that list does still hold up, I have to say, if I had seen this movie back then, it would have definitely been on there. Not quite sure where, but definitely near the top. Studio Ghibli has long been associated with quality animated movies, and even with the very real possibility that this is their final gift, what a gift to leave on!

Based actually on an English novel by Joan G. Robinson, this film tells the story of a young girl named Anna, who’s artistic, highly introverted, suffers from asthma and lives with a foster family who worry about connecting with her, and her connecting with other people. Truth be told, Anna suffers from a degree of self-loathing. But when a doctor suggests to her foster mother that she get away from the bustle of a city life, she agrees, and sends Anna to live with her sister and brother-in-law in a seaside town near Sapporo for the summer. Although initially about as disconnected as before, including upsetting some of the locals, Anna discovers an apparently abandoned mansion across a marsh, but occasionally sees lights on there too. One night, she discovers a girl her age living there, a girl named Marnie, who’s full of unbridled openness and friendliness towards Anna, and the two of them pick up a very dependable and close friendship, which is very open to interpretation in the way they act, particularly at how Marnie jovially declares Anna to be her ‘precious secret.’ It eventually becomes clear however, that Marnie is incredibly elusive. Occasionally, Anna will find the mansion completely derelict, despite being very full of life when Marnie’s there. It’s obvious that there’s more to Marnie than meets the eye, but given the insight Anna’s had to Marnie’s life in that mansion, one rather isolated and full of neglect, leads to her resolving to help Marnie however she can, no matter who she is, where she came from, or even if she’s even real…

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out to me more than the other Ghibli ones I’ve seen is how this has much more of a story to it than something like Kiki or Spirited Away, which may have something to do with it being a novel first. Kiki is just a slice of life movie, and whilst Spirited Away had a goal accomplished at the end of it, it’s still mostly focused on Chihiro’s interactions in a strange environment. Both these things work fantastically for the movies, but as someone very interested in narrative, this just caught my attention more. I felt like there wasn’t a single thing I could miss about it. Marnie’s introduction gave me all kinds of questions, and continued to intrigue me as the movie played out. Having to know an ending is a true sign of an engaging film. The characters are also fantastic, both the supporting and the main – perhaps Anna’s just all the more relatable to me, particularly how she talks about an ‘invisible magic circle’ in the world, representing social interactions, and how she is on the outside. The emotions Anna runs through throughout the flick is actually reminiscent to what I often go through. See, I told you it would be emotional for me to go through this…but anyway…

The way these two characters work off each other is incredible. There’s a scene where they have a long conversation about their feelings which doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced or in any way boring…I mean, I love characters talking about their feelings, but this does it all the better with scene transitions relating to what they’re saying, and as it’s Studio Ghibli, you know the backgrounds are just going to be gorgeous-looking. This film is, and it knows it. Just the shots of the marsh, the town, the water, they’re all so beautifully drawn, and despite being hand-drawn, just look and feel so real. It translates well into the pacing of the movie too, as even though the story is plot-driven, they sometimes just allow you to experience the atmosphere of the place, and it really works. The eponymous Marnie isn’t actually introduced until about half an hour in, allowing for you to feel as Anna does, just the way this little town works. There’s a scene with Anna walking home at sunset, and she passes a cyclist as she turns a corner. Why was this detail included? I don’t know, remove it and the story would still be complete, but it’s just such a nice detail. I can’t explain it. It’s just wonderful.

For all my gushing about this movie, you might wonder if it has any flaws. Well, yes, I’d say it did – but it’s difficult to talk about them without going into spoiler territory. I will do my best though.

By the end of the film, you are given an answer as to Marnie’s identity. It certainly fits, although on reflection, the explanation does raise a few questions which might distract a keen viewer, particularly about the nature of Anna and Marnie’s relationship as shown, and the possibilities of Anna’s role in all of this. Again, difficult to word without giving anything a way, but I imagine it could give some audiences a less than resolved feeling by the end. It did in my case when I first watched, but upon re-watching it recently, most of that vanished, because in all honesty, the vagueness presented to you didn’t change the strength of the relationship that we had seen develop throughout the story, nor the strength of Anna’s character development. It does end on a distinctly positive note, so it’s not as if these characters we’ve grown to care about are robbed of a happy ending. It’s just perhaps not as robust to analyst as some others might be. Sure, it raises a few questions, but it solves the major ones and does wonders for your emotions as you do so. Ultimately, these flaws are minor and don’t dent it by much of a margin.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone, even more so for fans of anime and/or hand-drawn animation. It’s emotional, it’s engaging, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s beautiful to listen to, I’ve gone on about it long enough, so go and see it if you haven’t already.

 

My Top 10 Favourite Animated Movies

Well, hi guys! Time for something completely different. Again!

So, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I figured I should get a nice little project under way before the inevitable soul-crushing despair that I often associate with the particular calendar date. And before we get on to what that is (which you may have been able to infer from the clarity of the title), a little word about Valentine’s Day.

I’m not trying to rain on the parade on those who are celebrating the big VD with a significant other – I think that’s great, it’s nice to celebrate with the people you love and want to share your life with. Yes, maybe it would be easier for me to sympathise if I had such a person myself, but that’s a story for another time. (Of course, I keep on saying that, but I have no idea when other times will come around). But the point is, I don’t think Valentine’s Day should exclude or even imply to exclude single people, because, simply put, it’s a celebration of love, and a lot of the single people I know are very capable of that. What’s more, why set aside a day? I like to consider myself full of love for my family, friends, and various people around me all the time, and I know a lot of people who are too. I know this is hardly news, but just consider it a reminder for everyone tomorrow that there should be no constraints to your love.

Well, except for infidelity, but that’s another issue entirely.

But of course, activities that both couples and singles can engage in are sitting d0wn and watching films. I’ve always loved films, and, as VD is a celebration of love, maybe it’s only fair to share the films I love the most. But to be fair, that’s not always easy. I can’t imagine myself being able to concoct a reliable list of my all time favourite movies. I’d end up feeling like I’ve betrayed another favourite after it’s over or something. It would be a disaster.

So, I thought I’d narrow it down a bit, and talk about animation.

Animated films, I feel, hold an important distinction. There are no real limits to the visual style, the same way there are for practical effects and actor constraints and all sorts of other painful inevitabilities of live-action movies. Animated films are not just a work of story-telling art, but of very obvious visual art as well. This isn’t to say live-action can’t be visually appealing too, but with animated movies, as I’ve said, the art-style is very obvious and there are no constraints. I’m not an animator myself, but I can see when an art style has worked…
(Oh look, that was unhyphenated.)

What’s more, for many a modern person, animated films are some of the first we ever saw. The obvious artistic choices are probably one of the reasons that animated movies are generally family or childrens’ media, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider them a lesser art form because of this – on the contrary, that age is where we’re the most impressionable, and even if we first watch some animated films when we’re older, we can appreciate how good (or not) they are for the next generation and if they’re conveying the right messages.

With all this in mind and more, I’ve compiled my personal list of my Top 10 Favourite Animated Movies. (Ha, bet you didn’t see that coming, considering it was the title and everything!) These are the ones that just really spoke to me and I have, or will be willing to watch them many times. I’ll be commenting on visuals, music, storytelling, characters, all that good stuff, and by the way, any animation style counts – hand-drawn, CGI or stop motion, although there are no stop-motion examples on this list. I’ll also only be counting animated features, the first of which was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), though that’s not on this list either…

The format of the list will contain the name of the feature, the year it was released and the animation studio who released it so one can examine and compare. Also, take care that if one of your favourites isn’t on the list, DON’T PANIC. This isn’t a list of what counts as the best animated movies of all time, just my personal favourites. In some cases, I may acknowledge that some lower on the list are stronger in certain respects to entries higher on the list – these are just my personal favourites in animated feature films.

So, without further ado, let’s begin…

 

#10) Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Beautybeastposter

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
I do believe this was the only animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture, and let’s be honest, you can see why. The most famous scene of Belle and the Beast’s dance with shots to the beautifully rendered ceiling and chandelier is just one of thing’s that makes this film such a spectacle. The post above declares it ‘the most beautiful love stories ever told’ and…yeah. Beautiful is a great word for it. I definitely felt the emotions of the characters and the journey they were taking during the movie, even though I knew what the outcome would be. As per a good animated feature, or any feature really, it does a very good job at visual storytelling, and taking on board just the right things to tell something of the fairy tale genre – as far as fairy tales are told, this is one of the ones that does it best.
You probably note that, as a movie often considered one of Disney’s finest, I’ve placed it pretty low on my list. Well, to be fair, I watched it a little late – I already knew most of the plot when I finally got down to viewing it, and whilst I definitely enjoyed most of the elements (barring of course the fact that the Beast in his human form looked inbred), it wasn’t quite the new spectacle that audiences in 1991 first got. Still, it’s nevertheless a very enjoyable film of very beautiful animation that I’ll definitely be seeing a few more times.

 

#9) The Prince of Egypt (1998)
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Studio: DreamWorks Pictures
Being raised in a very Christian environment, it was inevitable that I’d eventually see DreamWorks’ take on the story of Moses. But this is not a problem – this movie’s a total treasure. I’d definitely recommend it for any audience – not content with just telling the cut-out version of the story from the Book of Exodus, it uses it’s artistic licence to it’s full affect, taking full advantage of brothers (in this case, Moses and Rameses II of Egypt) who grew up together now being forced to be each other’s foes over the fates of the enslaved Hebrews. Not only does this film pile on the drama and the storytelling, but also has a fantastic and severely underrated soundtrack orchestrated by Hans Zimmer. Listening to the opening number of the movie as I write this, I feel the weight of the scenes they were set to, and if I weren’t so distracted, would definitely feel a chill…the design of the human characters isn’t always on par, but the animation of scenery at whatnot is gorgeous – the sweeping shots of Egypt, the segment full of burning hail during the plagues of Egypt, and the Passover sequence which is still one of the most chilling animated segments I’ve ever seen are just a few examples of why you should check this film out if you haven’t already.

 

#8) Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
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Studio: Studio Ghibli
I only discovered this one recently, but as you can see, I enjoyed it enormously.
Studio Ghibli is perhaps not as well known in the West as Disney and such, but you’ll find it has a very defensive community of fans. The story of this film is, at it’s core, actually very simple. It’s mainly about the life experienced by a young witch, who, upon arriving at a new town as per coming-of-age rituals, ends up setting up a delivery service using her broomstick. But this movie’s strength comes from it’s allowance for atmosphere. It gives us plenty of time to just get absorbed into this world and it’s characters. I remember being impressed at how well-paced it was. Nothing was happening too quickly or too slowly. It was just perfect. The characters are also very likeable – from Kiki herself, to the baker she stays with, to the artist who lives in a cabin in the woods to (insert other character if you’ve seen the film in here, I’ll love them, I love all of them.) It’s just a delightful experience, this entire movie, and the serene animation and music matches it perfectly. One of the most impressive things about the animation, in my opinion, is when Kiki’s flying – on the scene of her first delivery, when she deliberately drops, you just feel the gravity, and I hope some animation buff will tell me why. If there was one thing I think it could have done without, it would be the forced climax (there’s a joke to be made there). Not least because after it, the film just ends bizarrely anyway. But it’s a minor issue, I know I’ll be sitting down to experience this again sometime, maybe when I’m feeling down, because I found myself empathising considerably with Kiki when she goes through what she does here.

 

#7) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Hunchbackposter

Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Damn these unevenly sized posters!
But anyway…
Released at a time when the Disney Renaissance was on a bit of a decline, I do agree with Doug Walker’s sentiment that it may not have been the best movie to get a general audience – the source material was very dark and controversial, and yes, this was sugar-coating it…somewhat. But what do I care? Enough of the original elements of the story where there to still make it a pretty dark film, particularly for Disney. So, the ending’s happy, and it’s full of musical numbers and goofy side characters. But it’s also got undertones of abuse, corruption, genocide and lust. There’s even a whole musical number dedicated to the antagonist’s lust for a gypsy woman – a number which still has a reputation for being one of the best villain songs ever. Once again, the visuals all support it – not only does Notre Dame look fantastic, both on the external and internal sides of things, but they don’t shy away from religious iconography and fiery symbols of someone’s inner turmoil either. Even with these dark elements in place, sometimes the simplicity is nice too – Quasimodo, the eponymous hunchback, is a very likeable character, and so are the gypsy woman Esmeralda, the villain (in his own way) Claude Frollo, and the majority of the other characters, barring the gargoyles…
Also, much like Prince of Egypt, this movie has an unbelievably fantastic soundtrack that is considerably underrated. Make sure to check that out once you’ve finished the film – it’ll be an urge you can’t resist. Just as I can’t resist constantly re-watching this movie.

 

#6) Frozen (2013)
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Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
No, I refuse to join the bandwagon of people that, because Frozen is now literally everywhere and they’re fed up of it, are saying that this is a terrible movie despite loving it initially. Even if you didn’t like it initially, I don’t care, because I absolutely love this movie. So there!
I remember going into this movie not knowing what to expect, but within a few minutes I was hooked. Once again, Disney’s playing up the fairy tail element to it’s advantage, and while Beauty and the Beast agreeably takes more time with setting out the opening story, what we get from Frozen is another well-thought out story focusing on the emotions characters are going through, and even redefining Disney’s long-held definition of what counts as true love. Convenient for Valentine’s Day, I think…
What’s more, it updates the Disney tropes for a modern audience, not only in what I previously mentioned but the fact that both the leads are female – yeah, so Disney princesses are unbelievably common, but having two, one of whom is the queen, without any true animosity is very new and refreshing.
And yes, I guess I should probably talk about the music. I know you’re all fed up of hearing ‘Let It Go’ everywhere, and yes, I do prefer some other Disney movies’ soundtracks (see Hunchback above), but I still think it’s a good song. And even if you don’t like it, I still think the movie it’s in is worth it. Once again, the visuals are stunning. With Tangled three years earlier, Disney were just starting with the 3D-style – here they pretty much perfected it. Elsa’s ice castle looks amazing, as do most of the other scenes. Not much else to say about it other than stop giving this movie a hard time. No matter what you say, I’m going to be watching this movie many more times, so there. Ha!

 

#5) Toy Story 2 (1999)
KEY ART

Studio: Pixar

Hang on, I hear you cry, where’s the first Toy Story? Well, I didn’t want to include the entire trilogy here, as this would discount many other decent films, so instead I opted just for my favourite of the trilogy, and what is, to me, one of the most nostalgic treasures I have. So much so, that I’ve put my sister of this movie possibly for life because of how many times I watched it as a child. :/
But I just loved it that much! I’m sure most of you can agree that the Toy Story trilogy in general is very good imaginatively with it’s character creations and storytelling and visuals, we all know about that. But for me, Toy Story 2 is the best for it’s new emphasis on a growing, creeping dilemma now facing are characters, which comes into fruition in the final film, but I feel as though the uncertainty made it a lot more engaging and a lot easier to empathize with the characters’ decisions. Not least because of what we learn on the cast’s new editions and their pasts.
The climax is also one of my favourites – if you wanted an update from a chase with a moving van in the first movie, try at the airport with a bloody jet. Not to mention dealing with a reasonably sympathetic yet still diabolical villain. Definitely one I’m going to be watching many times more…providing my DVD doesn’t break. ;_;

 

#4) Inside Out (2015)
inside-out-poster

Studio: Pixar

This movie isn’t even a year old yet and I already think it belongs up there with some of the best. And apparently I’m not the only one – Inside Out has received universal critical claim. Not since the Toy Story trilogy has a Pixar film been this well-received, as far as I know.
And well, you can see why. A few people, obstinate at being different, have claimed that the idea is unoriginal. Well, yes…but nor is practically anything. Virtually every idea has been done before, but what Inside Out does with the concept of personified emotions in the head of a girl named Riley is everything intelligent you can do with an idea like this, with focus on what should be focused on. The story itself is actually a coming-of-age story, detailing and highlighting the transformations you go through as you get older. For many who are going through or who have gone through the motions, this film is a very (unsurprisingly) emotional experience. Whilst taking part in some usual conventions of a family film (all of which are entertaining as well) when it needs to make a point about the role of your emotions and how you should feel about the transformations and choices you make, it drives home it’s point in spectacular style. And if I should take time to talk about the animation as well, then it’s also unbelievably creative and very nice to look at. And then there’s the feminist themes – as a film aimed for general audiences, it has a good number of female leads. It’s early days, but I get the feeling this film will persist through the ages as a classic.

 

#3) Spirited Away (2001)
USA_full

Studio: Studio Ghibli

So, I get the feeling I’ll probably get lynched for placing this anywhere other than number 1. But…it’s my list. So there.
As you can see, I do definitely regard this movie very highly, but perhaps I’m disenfranchised, because I actually saw this a little later than most? I don’t know. There are still some elements about it that rub me the wrong way. Like, for example, what was the point of that No Face character? Yeah, he had a nice design, but other than that, I can’t really see what he did worthwhile.
But enough of that – most of what I have to say about this movie is overwhelmingly positive. For all I said about Beauty and the Beast and Frozen about catching the fairy tale element well, this, I think, is the one that does it perfectly. When it needs to be eerie, it’s eerie, when it needs to be sad, it is very sad, when it needs to be delightful and beautiful and whimsical, it captures that as well. The spirit world it draws us into, whilst not developed in an enormous amount of detail, is still stunning to look at and just very engaging. Even though the story’s enjoyable as well, it might be worth having a viewing of the movie with the sound muted, just to enjoy the visuals. I can imagine it would be wonderful even then, though with that being said, the music is also fantastic. I’m listening to it now, and it has occurred to me I will never get tired of that wonderful piano arrangement. And then there’s the story as well – the characters are very engaging and colourful and interesting, you feel the wonder, the terror, the grief…I don’t know what else more to say about it that everyone else has already said. Just watch it if you haven’t already. And if you want a summary…I’m not very good at them. Go find someone else…

 

#2) The Land Before Time (1988)
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Studio: Universal Pictures

Here’s another nostalgic treasure of mine – whilst I will admit I haven’t seen as much of Don Bluth’s work as I should, remembering and re-watching this movie as I do really makes me want to. So, maybe being a dino-nut as a young boy originally drew me to it, but this movie has so much more to offer than just that. Not only does Bluth’s signature animation style create a very mystical element to the entire thing, but the messages of this movie stand out. Look hard enough, and you’ll see an anti-racism undertone. This movie also deals with companionship and loss in hard circumstances, and what’s more, the child dinosaurs who are the main characters actually act like children, both in their attitudes, insecurities and actions. This makes them, I think, all the more relateable. They were some of my favourite fictional characters growing up, and to this day I still hold them very fondly. As well as the wonderful animation, this movie also has a fantastic score by the late James Horner, which I listen to very frequently. If there was one thing that might count against it, it’s the fact that it’s a very short film. A lot edits made in the initial stages rendered this movie little over an hour in length. And sometimes, the compression does show. But as you’ve probably picked up by now, I don’t care. This is a treasured bit of a gold from my childhood and I still enjoy watching it as a young adult.

So, what could possibly be number 1?? Well…

 

#1) Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion (2013)
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Studio: Shaft

Is this technically cheating, as this is a movie based on an anime series? Or that, despite my inspiring message at the beginning of this, this is not really a movie for children? Well, this is my list…and I utterly love the series, and I utterly love this movie. It technically counts as it’s a story separate to the series – a sequel, as it were. And as I have another sequel on this list, I think it’s allowed.
It’s very difficult to know what to say about this movie without giving away details of the plot of both the series and the film itself, but I’ll say that what the series does well, this movie ramps it up to the next level. The visual style really has to be seen to be believed, and even if you watch the series, you’ll only get a taster of how visually mind-bending and unbelievable the movie is. Taking both gorgeous colours and very dark, horrifying images, and blending it with a beautiful soundtrack supported by wonderful characters and underlying an amazing story, it reaches almost what I could consider a perfect animated film. Whilst opinions differ, I can proudly call myself a dedicated advocate of this movie.
The story, without giving too much away, underlies an inherent mystery. Even watchers of the series will be confused when they watch this, but whilst always dosing us with beautiful character development and great visual symbols of what’s to come and what’s going on in the mind of the point-of-view character in the story, they carefully bring us to the almighty twist that’s in the beginning of the movie…and that’s not even where the intense storytelling/visuals/literally everything stops either. This movie probably needs several viewings to understand fully, and even then, you can draw your own conclusions as to why everything happened and what it all means. Because, if you’re like me, you’re with this every step of the way. During some parts, I found myself literally pleading with the characters not to do…whatever they were about to do.
What else can be said? The animation is unbelievable, the characters and story awe-inspiring, the soundtrack beautiful…and if you enjoyed the lesbian undertones in this series, this movie cranks that up as well. So, if you enjoyed the series, definitely give this a watch. And if you haven’t watch the series and then the movie. I feel it’s my duty to promote it, if I make nothing else of my life…

 

So, there it was! I hope you enjoyed this list – let me know either from a comment here, or a message to me if you got to this link from my social media. If you liked this kind of opinion piece, give me more ideas for what I could make lists of. I have a few ideas, but let me know anyway. Basically thanks for reading, please share your thoughts and feelings, and have a good day!

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