A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The future is unknown, and life doesn't go as planned, but we can find resilience in purpose, friendship, and an openness to what lies ahead. The world is in your hands: It's up to you to make it a beautiful place.
Positive Role Models
Eleven-year-old Mahito is well-mannered and respectful to his elders. He follows his curiosity and learns how to build and use a bow and arrow, which then helps with his courage. He boldy tries to help a lost person. A tween is supernaturally powerful and keeps innocent creatures safe. A fisherwoman is astute and world-wise.
Made by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, the film centers on a Japanese boy and his family in the 1940s. Cultural, societal, and historical elements are woven into the story, including food, clothing, and family relationships. Female characters are depicted as strong, capable, and brave. Elderly characters are spirited and full of personality -- and Miyazaki himself is now in his 80s, showing that age doesn't dampen talent. Mahito grapples with his father's remarriage to his dead wife's younger sister, who's pregnant with Mahito's soon-to-be younger sibling; by the end of the film, they've become a loving, blended family.
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Violence & Scariness
A boy self-harms, and blood gushes. Widespread fire kills a parent (death not shown). Fire is a recurring symbol, and, at times, women are seen inside the flame. Characters are frequently in peril. Creepy images, such as frogs climbing all over a person, or a human-bird that has teeth. Adorable creatures are made giant and carniverous, carrying knives and weapons with the intent to kill and eat humans (although this is often comical, at least for adults). Schoolyard fight. Someone melts. An injured creature begs to be put out of its misery. In a flashback, unknown characters seen from a distance fall off a building to their death. Electric shocks seem to cause unpleasant sensation, but nothing too painful. A coming-of-age scene involves the disembowelment of a giant fish, its guts spilling over.
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A couple of uses of words such as "damn," "shut up," and "turd."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes. An 11-year-old uses the cigarettes to buy assistance among the smokers in his family but doesn't smoke them himself.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that anime legend Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to make The Boy and the Heron, a fantasy that incorporates elements of his own childhood. Set in 1940s Japan during World War II, the opening scene shows a fire raging through a hospital, spreading to consume everything in its path -- including the mother of young main character Mahito (voiced by Soma Santoki in the Japanese original and Luca Padovan in the English dub). Three years later, now 11, he moves to the countryside, which introduces new mysteries. He's bullied and roughed up at school, then intentionally gives himself a bloody head injury. After that, he's able to access an "other" world, where parakeets are giant carnivores (some have knives) and a fire-powered girl protects the innocent. Mahito and this girl are often in peril, and sometimes the animated images are intense or unsettling (like the disembowelment of a giant fish or a man inside a heron skin), but things are never too scary. Adults smoke cigarettes, and Mahito steals cigarettes to cajole them into doing favors for him. Mild language includes a couple of uses of "damn" and "shut up." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Miyazaki hasn't lost his touch, creating another hand-drawn world that's infused with supernatural wonder. His illustrations in The Boy and the Heron are breathtaking, displaying nature with extraordinary gorgeousness -- like sun breaking through clouds or seeing what's under the surface of the water from a boat. The filmmaker's many decades of life have only allowed his imagination to flourish, leading to the movie's fantasy-infused version of his own childhood tragedy. The film is like the revered animator's version of Alice in Wonderland mixed with The Wizard of Oz: A tween facing a difficult moment unintentionally travels to a mysterious, magical, and dangerous world, following his curiosity and finding his courage. That said, this film is a complete original.
The movie's quieter, slower parts may lose some viewers. But Mahito's journey is an excellent one for kids to take part in, as the film shows that forces outside of our control can and will put our world into a tailspin, sometimes in painful and tragic ways. But that doesn't mean that life can't still be good.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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