Mamoru Hosoda’s The Boy and the Beast works with many common anime tropes but doesn’t find anything new to say about them.
On the streets of Shibuya, nine-year-old runaway Ren (Aoi Miyazaki) discovers a portal to a world populated by anthropomorphic animals. There he grows up in an uneasy apprenticeship with the gruff, bearlike Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho) before returning to the human world.
In its exploration of an intersection between human and animal realms, The Boy and the Beast echoes Hosoda’s masterpiece Wolf Children, and the adult Ren being a ringer for that film’s Wolfman probably isn’t a coincidence. But where the lushly emotional Wolf Children dealt with girly things — a mother’s relationship with her difficult children, a teenage girl finding her path — The Boy and the Beast has lots of grunting and sword-fights and general manliness.
It’s well-made, and the scenes in urban Shibuya are particularly lovely, but there are glaring story holes even by anime standards: A major plot thread requires that the beasts be fooled into believing that Ren’s fellow human child Ichirohiko (Haru Kuroki) is indeed an animal because he wears a long plush animal hat. It’s an adorable hat, to be sure, but just because they’re beasts doesn’t mean they should be quite that dumb.
The Boy and the Beast
Directed by Mamoru Hosoda
Opens March 4, Angelika Film Center, Bow Tie Chelsea Cinema, AMC Empire 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2016