From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

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Interesting, emotionally complex little film with kind of a stretched plot that really ought to have focused less on the predictable “save the clubhouse”  story and more on the deep, complicated relationship between the main character and her male friend. Still, it’s a good movie, even great at times, with some rather devastating scenes that are surprisingly quite heartbreaking, especially for a kid’s film. Is this movie a kid’s film? It’s humorous and light and cartoony like a kid’s film, sure, but there’s nothing magical or eccentric or over the top about it. It’s very much grounded in reality, almost to the point where you wonder why they even bothered to make it a cartoon at all when a live action film would have worked just as well, and would have probably been cheaper. Maybe it wouldn’t have looked as nice, but there’s nothing about this film that screams “cartoon!” in the way, say, a Disney or Pixar film might, or even a typical Asian anime.

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The thing is a children’s cartoon drama, plain and simple. I didn’t know such a thing existed, or was even possible, but there you go. It’s actually more dramatic and emotional than most dramas I know of, and, for a children’s film, it sure does deal with some pretty damn complicated emotional issues, stuff I’ve rarely ever seen dealt with anywhere before, children’s film or otherwise. Is this a good thing? Well, for adults, I’d say yes, because, well, wow. The stuff that’s revealed is just so thought-provoking and heart wrenching, and yet the way it unfolds is so honest and emotional that you wonder just who in the hell this film was made for exactly. Certainly not kids, at least not most kids given the complex nature of the relationship the two leads here have. And yet, it’s a cartoon. A serious, restrained cartoon by Western standards, but a cartoon nonetheless. And everyone knows adults don’t usually watch cartoons on the big screen, so, what was the thought pattern that went into making it exactly? Very, very odd.

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Not that I’m complaining; I love experimental type stuff like this, especially when it works, and it does here very much for the most part. I particularly admired how very little BS this film has, how very little “fluff” there is and how very few “tricks” it uses to get its themes across. Nothing is over the top or unnatural, save the whole “clubhouse” subplot which takes up way too much time and has its moments but felt very typical and forced and frankly couldn’t hold a candle to the far, far more interesting main story. Still, I can forgive it. It was trying to appeal to kids, I understand, trying to have its cake and eat it too, as they say. I just wish they hadn’t let it go on and on and on the way they did. But the film has such moments of sadness, like the **SPOILERS** devastating dream sequence that was just about one of the most emotional things I’ve ever seen in a film, or when the male lead finally tells the female lead why he’d been acting so distant toward her over the last few days, and the shocked silence that follows. **END SPOILERS** Just brutal. And so much restraint on the part of the filmmakers, using so little to convey so much. It’s extremely effective.

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Overall, man, this movie, let me tell you. If you’re expecting a nice happy silly fluffy laugh a minute comedy, you’re in for quite the punch to the gut. Rich, three-dimensional characters and emotional complexity galore. The film also raises some pretty deep philosophical questions about the nature of love and relationships and family, most of which may be off-putting to some viewers, at least initially. But that’s what makes the film so effective, this question of romance and family and satisfying deep emotional needs. It’s a tricky subject. Are **SPOILERS** their feelings for one another before the big revelation at the end **END SPOILERS** immoral? I don’t know. It’s a tough question, especially when raised in this context. And that’s what makes the film as good as it is, even genius at times, stupid crappy clubhouse subplot and all. And the voice acting was decent, though Aubrey Plaza? Really? Ugh.

Anyway, worth watching, absolutely, even if it is a bit slow in parts. Not really a kid’s film though. But go see it anyway! The world needs more children’s cartoon dramas!

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