The Boy and The Heron made its big screen debut in most theatres in Utah (and all over the U.S.) on Friday, Dec. 8 and it was worth the wait.  

If you are already a Studio Ghibli fan, then this most likely isn’t news. However, if you are unfamiliar with it, there are some things you should know. Studio Ghibli films have been coming out since the 80s’ with a notable animation style written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Some have become family favorites and are often touted as great movies for kids.

Some like Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro fit into this category, but the rest are heavily themed in some ways. The Boy and The Heron is no exception. So, if you were thinking of bringing your younger kids, I’d say anywhere from nine and below to this movie, maybe screen it first.  


The Plot

The premise is about a young boy Mahito, who loses his mother during World War II in a hospital fire. A year later, he moves to the family estate with his father who is now together with his late wife's younger sister, Natsuko who is pregnant.  

Mahito finds life to be difficult and joining the rural school doesn’t go well for him. He goes so far as to injure his head with a rock to become ill and avoid the whole thing. Laid up in bed, several old women maids' fuss over Mahito, who become lovable characters toward the end. At first, they come off a bit creepy.  

Since coming to the estate, Mahito has had several run-ins with a grey heron who steadily gets closer each time Mahito is alone. When Mahito is injured, the heron speaks to him through his open window. If you’re imagining some Disney-like bird, stop. This heron becomes creepier throughout the movie and lures Mahito away from his new home.  

A family legend surrounding the Great Uncle about a tower where people disappear is told by the maids and Natsuko when Mahito goes adventuring one day. Soon after, Natsuko becomes sick from her pregnancy.  

Bored and alone, Mahito decides to make a bow and arrow from things he finds around the house, including a feather from the grey heron. While making it he sees Natsuko go off into the woods. A few hours later she goes missing and the whole house is looking for her. One of the maids, Kiriko, goes with Mahito as he follows the path she took into the woods. Of course, it leads to the old tower, and waiting to greet him is the grey heron. The unwilling maid clings to Mahito and they both become trapped inside.  

The heron looks somewhat normal for this scene but not only is his voice creepy, but he lures Mahito in with the promise of seeing his deceased mother. He finds her inside lying on a couch but when he touches her, she vividly melts into a puddle. This is a fairly disturbing scene, especially for a kid.  

The story truly begins here, and the pacing of the movie rapidly increases.  

I won't be giving away any more details except to say the film is incredibly well done but it’s unlike any other Studio Ghibli movie before. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with them, but the serious tone seems a lot like Princess Mononoke or Nausica of The Wind. It most definitely is not a “for fun” movie.  

The themes center around life, death, and creation in unique ways, but you will have to pay attention to catch all the references because some are not as obvious. One other theme that had less bearing on the film but came through was found family or choosing to focus on who is still present.  

I think this theme could have been made larger, but it fits in nicely with the story overall.  

Chaotic moments and slow moments are interchanging throughout the film which is spot on for Miyazaki’s storytelling style. There are also some adorable and funny moments sprinkled in the film that will make anyone smile.  

It’s truly well done but don’t expect a cute story because that is not its purpose in the least.  

The Voice Actors 

I think the cast was absolutely perfect for this. I would not change a thing and when you see the movie you will understand why. For fans of Howl’s Moving Castle, I think your dreams of another Christian Bale moment are kind of shot as the character he voices has limited screen time. He plays Mahito’s father and does an excellent job but his Howl is even better.  

Robert Pattinson made the grey heron extremely creepy in parts and coupled with the unusual morphing, he brought out the unknown entities' fear factor a lot. However, as the film progresses, Pattinson lessens this and makes him a more lovable character.  

Florence Pugh as Kiriko was almost unrecognizable but in the best way. She truly brought the character into the light and played a pivotal role in the story. Mark Hamill voicing Grand Uncle was a true screen gift even though he was not seen much. His voice acting always amazes me and this film is no different.  

Lastly, Willem Dafoe made a small appearance as the Noble Pelican, and his short moments really impacted how the viewers saw the entire race. His screen time may have been limited but his role in the story was not.  

I rate this film highly and think it has the potential to rival both Barbie and Oppenheimer for Best Movie of the Year. I’m sure there will be animation awards along with awards for the soundtrack. The music was unbelievably good and added to the themes and highlighted big moments in the movie.  

If Pattinson doesn’t get nominated for his voice acting that would also be a big surprise. He really went above and beyond for this role.  

So, go head to your local Utah theatre and check out this movie. You won't be disappointed.  

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