Review: Wolf Children / Cert: PG / Director: Mamoru Hosoda / Screenplay: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera / Starring: Kumiko Aso, Yukito Nishii, Haru Kuroki / Release Date: October 25th
It's the old story. Girls meets boy. Boy turns out to be a wolf. Boy and girl get together and have cubs. Then boy drowns in a canal and is dumped by his tail into a black bin liner. What's a girl to do – except, perhaps, go on The Jeremy Kyle Show?
Answer: move to the country. And this is what Hana, the heroine of Wolf Children, does, settling into a crumbling, My Neighbour Totoro-style house in the sticks with her two shape-shifting kids, Yuki and Ame, after the untimely death of their father. Yuki, a boisterous little girl, loves the change of locale, but Ame, her timid younger brother, is far less keen. However, as the years roll by and one learns more about being a human while the other learns more about being a wolf, their roles slowly reverse: now it's Ame who feels the call of the wild and Yuki who feels the call of, y'know, having a boyfriend and hanging out with her besties at school. But can the children control the two sides of their nature, or will they end up tearing the family apart in a flurry of flying fur?
Wolf Children begins in unpromisingly mawkish fashion. The bits where Hana and her bloke play happy families in a cramped starter flat are too twee for words, and that whole section looks slightly cheap too, the simplistic character designs not gelling at all well with environments cluttered with washing machines, rice cookers and electric heaters. However, things buck up considerably once the shift to Totoro-land is made. There's an enjoyable sequence where Hana learns the ins and outs of farming from her grumpy but kindly neighbours, and the kids become more interesting as they grow up and achieve self-awareness.
The animation budget seems to be stacked towards these latter stages too – witness the exhilarating scene where Ame, in wolf form, explores the mountains above his home with an animal that has become his mentor, and a powerful, climactic storm sequence full of rushing cloud, pelting rain and swirling foliage. Stick with it and Wolf Children eventually rewards your patience, but there's no doubt that it gets off to an iffy start and that it could have done with taking itself a little less seriously – after all, it's hard not to smirk knowingly at these lupine shenanigans in this post-Twilight age. Still, you've got to love a film that takes time away from the drama to teach you how to grow potatoes.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10