Critics Have Seen The Boy And The Heron, And They’re All Saying The Same Thing About Anime Legend Hayao Miyazaki’s Latest Film

December is a great time to plan a trip to the theater, and this year especially seems to have something to satisfy fans of every genre. You don’t have to tell anime fans that, though, because they’re likely all too aware that the next project from famed director Hayao Miyazaki, The Boy and the Heron, hit theaters on December 8. The animated feature was produced by Studio Ghibli, which is known for some of the most iconic movies in the genre, and from the looks of the reviews, Miyazaki doesn’t disappoint.

The story follows a young boy Mahito (voiced by Luca Padovan in the English dubbing), who crosses into a world between the living and the dead in search of his mother. The Boy and the Heron boasts an A+ dub cast that includes Robert Pattinson, Christian Bale, Florence Pugh, Dave Bautista, Mark Hamill and Willem Dafoe (whose project Poor Things is also debuting to rave reviews this weekend). Katie Smith-Wong of FlickFeast rates The Boy and the Heron 4 out of 5 stars, calling it the most personal story of Miyazaki’s career. She writes: 

As The Boy and The Heron follows Mahito on his journey, the animation becomes more elaborate but retains a calibre expected of Studio Ghibli. Unlike his previous films, Miyazaki focused on shaping the story while animation director Takeshi Honda (who previously worked on From Up on Poppy Hill) oversaw the animation process. Each frame is immaculately detailed and full of colour, providing a dazzling vibrancy that elevates the magic of the narrative and absorbs audiences into the film’s vast and fantastical worlds. As a result, The Boy and The Heron puts itself as one of Studio Ghibli’s deeper features, as well as one of its finest works.

Ben Travis of Empire gives The Boy and the Heron 5 stars out of 5, calling it an “astonishing, sumptuous animated fantasy featuring everything you love about one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.” The critic continues: 

A decade after his paean to the power of flight and the corruptibility of dreams, Miyazaki returns with another outright masterwork — this time, the kind of rich, bewildering, ceaselessly imaginative fantasy-adventure that Ghibli is best known for. The Boy And The Heron is not only a victory lap for a filmmaker long regarded as one of the greatest of all time — it’s a contemplative and self-reflective psychological dive into the mind of its own creator, a soul laid bare in cinematic form. If that sounds heavy — and at points, it is — it’s also thrillingly adventurous, spikily funny, and beautifully crafted, a feast for the eyes, mind, heart and soul. A Miyazaki movie, then.

Justin Chang of NPR says the movie combines the excitement of a child’s grand adventure with the weight of an older man’s reflection, eliciting the kind of emotion you’d expect to get from watching every Hayao Miyazaki movie in succession. Chang writes: 

If this is a partial self-portrait, it’s also a beguiling fantasy, in which Miyazaki’s flair for wondrous characters, bewildering plot turns and gorgeous and grotesque imagery is on inventive display.

Luke Y. Thompson of AV Club grades the film an A-, saying that if this is the final film for Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki, it can be considered a victory lap. Thompson writes:  

Like a dream that allows its creator to express emotions they could not in real-life polite company, Mahito’s journey with the Heron takes all sorts of fantastical tangents that aren’t necessarily metaphors, but in the end allows him to exorcise his traumas. The juxtaposition of cuteness and danger adds a pointed disorienting effect—who knew that parakeets in little chef hats could endanger one’s life so? That, in a way, is childhood, especially childhood in the immediate post-WWII Japan—the kids may be fed cuteness, but they’re aware of the lingering fear and despair underneath.

Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert gives the movie another perfect score, rating it 4 out of 4 stars, noting that the patience required in the first hour is rewarded in the movie’s final scenes, when the emotions really land. The colorful animation is bolstered by a gorgeous score by Joe Hisaishi, which Tallerico calls his favorite this year. The critic continues: 

Hayao Miyazaki had something else to say, working some of his own life, art, and interests into the masterful The Boy and the Heron, a mesmerizing fable that feels even more like a summary of an artist’s career. It’s a film that somehow plays as both a child’s heroic journey and an old man’s wistful goodbye at the same time, a dream-like vision that reasserts Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s voice and international relevance. It’s gorgeous, ruminative, and mesmerizing, one of the best of 2023.

The Boy and the Heron is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with 95% rating from more than 140 critics and an 88% audience score, as of this writing. Where will The Boy and the Heron fall in the ranking of Hayao Miyazaki films? You can make that judgment for yourself, as the movie is in theaters now, available both in Japanese with English subtitles and in dubbed English. Take a look at our 2023 movie calendar to see what else is hitting the big screen before the end of the year. 


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