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Saturday, March 19, 2016

When Marnie Was There

This is that time of year when I see animation that is not from the usual sources, the animated films that get nominated for Oscars that didn't hit the multiplexes. Most of the time these films, in stark contrast to American animation, are quiet and thoughtful, and often not comedies. So it is with When Marnie Was There.

Studio Ghibli, who rivals Disney, Pixar, and Aardman for the best animation studio in the world, is best known for the work of Hayao Miyazaki, but he has hung up his brush, When Marnie Was There is the work of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and based on a novel by Joan G. Robinson.

The story, set in Japan, but with characters that look European, is about Anna, a painfully introverted girl raised by adoptive parents. She has asthma, and is sent to the country to stay with her mother's relatives for the summer for her health. She loves to draw, and after exploring becomes enchanted with an abandoned mansion on the edge of a marsh. Eventually she notices a light in one of the windows, and after that meets an occupant-- Marnie.

Anna and Marnie become fast friends, but Anna can't help but wonder if Marnie is real. She attends a party at Marnie's house, meeting her parents, but the next day she returns and the ballroom is empty. She starts to doubt her sanity. A new girl moving into the mansion finds a diary by a girl named Marnie, and the two of them figure out just who Marnie was.

The film is a lovely depiction of the pains of adolescence, especially for the introverted. I could commiserate with Anna, because when I was a kid I desperately wanted to run from other kids. I never had an imaginary friend, though, and there was times I wondered why Anna wasn't getting professional help. But that's a knee-jerk reaction--kids are over-medicated, and left to figure it out for herself Anna does just fine.

The animation suggests Japanese watercolors and the depictions of sunsets over the water are particularly stunning. The English-language cast has Hailee Steinfeld as Anna and Kiernan Shipka as Marnie, also with appearances by John C. Reilly, Geena Davis, and Vanessa Williams. Most American children don't have the patience for this sort of thing, but more thoughful children, especially girls, should enjoy it. There's plenty of magic and heartbreak.

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