Out of all genres when it comes to storytelling fantasy is easily my least favorite. It’s for the sole reason almost anyone who writes a fantasy story in general lacks the creativity to depart from being a Lord of the Ring copycat, or don’t bother putting their own spin on tired formulas. Among these tired formula is the young child being transported into another world, and growing up after their journey is completed. A simple setup like this allows the writer to come up with anything fantastical they want. In this case, the writer is Mamoru Hosoda who also directed the movie, and it shows his incompetence as a lone storyteller. Quite the bold statement to make, until you realize screenwriter Satoko Okudera who shared screen writing credits on Hosoda previous films from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009), and Wolf Children (2012) is absent from screenwriting duty this time. You would think working with someone like Satoko Okudera (an experience screenwriter in TV, and films) during his career that Hosoda would learn how to craft a compelling story with fully realize themes on his own. Apparently not since The Boy, and the Beast comes off embarrassingly amateur on every front.
The Boy, and the Beast tries to be a coming of story following Ren, a pre-teen with a bad attitude who runs away from home after the death of his mother. This eventually leads Ren to discover a portal to Jutengai: The Beast Kingdom where anthropomorphic creatures roam free. Inadvertently, he become entangled in a feud between two powerful warriors vying for Lord of Jutengai. Detailing more about the little snippets of story this film has to offer would be spoiling it. Simultaneously accomplishing the impossible task of meandering, and being rushed in its writing. Meandering in the way it takes longer than necessary to establish, or get across simple plot points. Taking it sweet before introducing any sort of an overarching story thirty minutes into the movie. This late start dampens the experience since the introduction sequence tells you about the world of Jutengai, and the conflict between two powerful warriors vying to be the lord of Jutengai. So minutes when characters are explaining this to Ren it makes the introductory narration pointless.
The biggest issue this introduction brings up is the fact this is one pointless usage of a fantasy world. For starter, it hardly bothers to explain much about Jutsengai being more akin to duplicating the human world in how it function. There’s so little effort to make Jutengai its own distinct entity apart from the human world that if one removed the fantasy setting hardly anything in the story would change. There’s one scene where Ren, and his temperamental master Kumatetsu go traveling to learn what true strength is from eight different gods across the land of Jutengai. I presume it’s eight since eight letter of introduction is given to Kumatetsu, and it’s establish they’re just letter of introduction. Showing the audience only half of the lords in the land. This half explored idea rein true for the entire movie; concepts are half baked, and dropped as a moment instance despite the fact they could provide the much needed substance the movie needs.
The dramatic focus of the story is Ren tackling several inner turmoils that the movie poorly handles. For starter, in the second half of the movie Ren becomes confuse if he’s human, or beast. This simple idea of uncertainty where Ren belongs has the foundation to be a compelling character arc, but instead glosses over it since Hosoda doesn’t know how to show Ren conflicted being a part of two worlds. Another issue is Ren coming to terms with his father, and learning to forgive him for leaving him at a young age. Instead of showing the steps to that character arc it’s resolve in three exchange; the reintroduction, the fight, and the resolution. That’s all! Being it very bothersome because his father absent is one of the main motivation for Ren running away in the first place.
Bringing me to my biggest problem of Ren writing which is he has no consequences for running away from his problems. Ren doesn’t learn from Kumatetsu to suck it up, smell the roses, and endure the worst temporary aspects of one’s life. No, Ren turns out well for himself. I’m left to presume this since the movie skips over a decade to him being an adult. During that time I’m left to presume that Ren never felt alone as the only human in Jutengai, out of place, or any kind of conflict during this time. It’s now when he’s an adult returning to the real world for the first he has any spontaneous issue living in Jutengai. If you think the movie would wisely show Ren attempting to adapt again into the human world you’re wrong. Anything regarding his education is brushed aside since he has a friend who helps him study, and presumably quickly since the passage of time isn’t properly established. Fixing up his relationship with his estranged father is done in a haphazard manner. Ren sees his father just whenever the story feels like it. Ren is a simply a tool that goes through the various motion without having much to take in, even on a surface level. On top of this, Ren even has a home to return to in the human world so even less conflict to overcome.
We then come to the characters of Tatara, and Hyakushubo who only purpose in the movie is explaining to the audience the moral of the story, and the significance of scenes. Being very insulting to the audience intelligence since the film tells a very simplistic story. They explain the growth of Ren when in the hospital looking after Kumatetsu, explain what Ren is doing when imitating Kumatetsu movements, and sometimes other characters do the spoon feeding when Tatara, and Haykushubo are absent on screen. Like two important figures commenting both Kumatetsu, and Ren learning from each other, even though the visuals clearly got that across. There’s also the time Kaede explains to Ren that metaphor in the novel Moby Dick, which in turn is actually meant to tell the audience Kumatetsu is an extension of Ren. Something that is obvious to interpret from the simplistic writing. Instead of trusting its viewer to connect the dots it dedicated the creation of two characters to spoon feed you the events you’re seeing on screen.
This wouldn’t be needed in the first place if Hosoda actually fleshed out his themes, and characters. For the first half, the story attempts to have Ren, and his master Kumatetsu learn about finding strength, and learning to cooperate with each other to achieve their individual goal. When the time skip occurs the characters haven’t changed much. Being one dimensional prevents meaningful growth, especially when the movie has it characters telling the viewer things they could pick up on easily.
The climax is simply a clusterfuck. Introducing a villain that was poorly foreshadowed leading to a battle of ideology. It’s at this point the poor world building comes into effect. So, when the villain is causing havoc in the human world there suddenly some explosions in Jutengai. The world building is virtually absent that this only in this point in the movie is it even mentioned in throwaway dialogue that chaos in the human world also means chaos in Jutengai. No, I don’t know if the same applies in reverse since this is the first time anything of the sort is brought up. The only other mentioned of this is when Kumatetsu is warned that if a human is consumed by darkness it could affect more than him. A warning so vague it could translate to anything. By the time I saw the sight of a CG whale brought to life by the fact that Ren dropped a book called Moby Dick I knew I was already in too deep, and might as well finish it. Leading to a very cheesy resolution in the climax, and a callback makes it hilarious to consider that Hosoda idea of foreshadowing is just briefly mention something once, and have it be absent for a long time.
Animation is handle by Studio Chizu, and it’s fine. The movement is smooth regardless of how many characters are on screen. Character expressions are very exaggerated same with body movement. Where the animation falls short is the visual design; it’s mundane. Studio Chizu applies as much real world function to Jutengai as possible making it barely look any different than the human world. When it comes to designs the background are very detailed, and vibrant. Unfortunately, the characters in them lack creative design. This is mostly due to the baffling decision to have all of its fantasy creatures where Japanese clothing retroactively homogenizing every beast visually. Hardly deviating from the anthropomorphic animals designs not creating anything unique of their own. The few action sequences are fluid, but not exciting to watch since there’s hardly any dynamic camera angles. The few usage of CG blends in well with 2D animation preventing things from sticking out like a sore thumb.
Voice acting is the only aspect of the movie I consider to be fine. If you ask me, I would say the Japanese audio is better simply for the fact Kumatetsu is voiced by Japanese award winning film actor Koji Yakusho. Providing a welcome change in the reluctant master role in his more relax portrayal. Typically, a voice actor would play temperamental characters by simply shouting, screaming, or yelling their lines into the mic. For example, Josh Swasey who voices Kumatetsu does exactly that for the entire film. Preventing there being any wiggle room for him to get across a softer side of Kumatetsu. Koji Yakusho on the other hand simply plays him like he would any other character. He puts himself into the mind of Kumatetsu, brings out his temperamental side without purely relying on shouting, and lay on some charm through a rough, charismatic voice. Unlike Josh Swasey portrayal of Kumatetsu, Koji Yakusho makes an unlikable character likable. As for the rest of the cast they’re fine in both languages. However, with one actor portraying Kumatetsu properly, and the other one doing it badly. The Japanese audio is the recommended choice if everything I wrote doesn’t dissuade you from watching it. Music is easily forgettable while I’m at it.
The Boy, and the Beast is terrible movie that made me feel every minute of its two hour runtime passed by. Checking multiple time when the movie would be over since it provided nothing of value, even on a surface level the animation isn’t enough to enjoy. It’s a simple story about finding one self, conquering the darkness, and growing up stretched to a at time unbearable length. If you removed 75% of the film content, you would have a stronger movie which is the saddest part of all. So clumsy in its exploration of ideas, and so little to grasp on in everything else ensures this is (currently) Mamoru Hosoda weakest movie. He needs to learn in order for his ideas to work they need to be properly fleshed out, clearly defined by how his characters face these ordeals, and most importantly don’t spoon feed the audience the meaning of your story simplistic story.