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OVP: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Film: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014)
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Liu, George Segal
Director: Isao Takahata
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Animated Feature Film)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Animated films do not always have to be for children.  It's something that I think Disney has so ingrained in our heads that we feel weird when a movie like Waltz with Bashir or Waking Life comes along and shows us another realm of possibilities-it's a format, after all, and not a genre.  The same can be said, however, for fairy tales, as Princess Kaguya sets out to prove.  The film, while seemingly fit for children (it has a miniature princess from the moon, which screams Disney marketing team), is very much a movie for adults.  Adapted from a folk tale, the movie works at a deliberate (occasionally excruciatingly so) pace in hopes of attracting an adult audience for the work.  It's an interesting failure in this regard, therefore, but definitely one that if you wish that you'd get a fairy tale for grownups (and not just preteens flocking to Maleficent) then this is for you.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film is about a bamboo cutter and his wife who raise a child they find growing out of a bamboo shoot.  The little girl, whom they call Princess but whom the local boys call Little Bamboo, grows quickly and soon reaches adolescence and then adulthood.  After the bamboo cutter finds gold and silk growing out of another bamboo shoot, he assumes that his Princess should go to the capital and she should be treated as a proper princess.  As she has become friends with the boys and likes her simple life, she initially resists, but feels that she must respect her father's wishes.

In the capital we get an extremely long sequence where she receives her name (Kaguya) and goes through princess-training, which she fails miserably at being that she's a tomboy, but she eventually grows wise (somehow-not really sure where that came from as it's an unexpected and really convenient plot-twist) and is pursued by every rich man in the land.  These men spend another very long sequence fighting over her, after they are instructed by Kaguya to do an impossible task.  They eventually end up in squalor and ruin as a result of this, which plays in the film like it's something karmically that they did, but I interpreted it as Kaguya being unnecessarily cruel.  This is actually a vein that runs through the film, so the ending shouldn't have been too much of a surprise.  Kaguya ends up going back to the moon against her wishes, with the bamboo cutter and his wife left distraught (weirdly for a film that was already pretty long was the fact that they cut the ending of the folktale, where the Emperor burns a letter that Kaguya had left and places it at the top of Mount Fuji).

The film is a conundrum for me.  I will admit up-front that I didn't really care for it.  It was too slow-moving at times, and most of the story beats were pretty predictable and not really well-executed.  The scenes with the suitors I think were supposed to be interesting in the way that they sort of just abandoned their lives for this woman they've never seen, but after a suitor or two you just wanted to fast forward to figure out what happened next.  It seems crass and a little bit boorish to say such a thing, but it's the truth-I wish the editors had seen that they were being too deliberate.  I also have to say that the animation, while lovely and all that, wasn't really striking in an amazing way.  We've seen this style of animation before multiple times and in my opinion it pales in comparison to something like Song of the Sea which has a far more compelling color palette.

That being said, there were moments that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I loved the ending in theory, even if it doesn't make sense in practice.  The best scene in my opinion was the scene where Kaguya's childhood friend Sutemaru (Darren Criss y'all!) has a dalliance and flies around the sky with her, willing to abandon his life and spend it with her.  The only problem here, and one of those instances where the film is clearly meant for adults because explaining this to a child would be too complicated, is that he's married and has a child.  The fact that the film shows him totally willing to abandon his wife and child to pursue a beautiful woman is fascinating from an animated context, and it sort of puts a new perspective on, say, Ariel leaving her family in The Little Mermaid and other movies where a woman gets scorned or leaves everything for a happily ever after.

All-in-all, though, I wasn't wowed here.  The animation is nice but doesn't make up for a long story that could have been a half hour shorter and gotten the same message across.  This is a minority opinion, however (the film generally got raves)-do you agree with me or are you with the rest of the critics?  Share your thoughts below!

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