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Big Fish & Begonia
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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Big Fish & Begonia is a deep anime fantasy that blends Chinese myths with big themes, including life, death, love, and sacrifice. Characters are frequently in peril, and there are mildly scary and upsetting scenes. While the tale presents death as "a stop on the way to eternity," the characters go to extreme lengths to save others' lives, including giving up their own. Some characters say that the young don't appreciate the value of living, but those who sacrifice their lives are portrayed as selfless, noble, and brave. It's troubling that the main character chooses to give up years of her life instead of her beauty. The film presents but doesn't clearly explore the idea of unintended consequences. A key character defies the laws of nature to resurrect a beautiful young stranger who lost his life saving hers; in doing so, she sets in motion circumstances that lead to death for others. While the film avoids rude language or behavior, a horse does defecate on a character's head. The movie has made a major impact in anime: It's one of the highest-grossing Chinese animated movies of all time.
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What's the story?
BIG FISH & BEGONIA takes place in a spiritual world that controls time and weather in the human world. It's also where human souls are kept and protected after death until they're reincarnated into fish (if they're "good") or rats (if they're "bad"). While participating in a rite of passage to live on Earth for a week as a dolphin, 16-year-old Chun (voiced by Stephanie Sheh) makes a connection with a handsome human teen (Todd Haberkorn). As Chun leaves to return home, she's caught in a net near a whirlpool, and the boy drowns while saving her. She can't bear the idea that she cost him his life, so she strikes a deal with the Keeper of Souls: She'll give up half her life to allow the boy to return to the human world. As Chun raises the tiny soul, she also raises the ire of her village as it becomes clear she's defied not just the community's rules but also the laws of nature -- which slowly puts her world into chaos as it tries to restore balance.
Is it any good?
The animation in this film is visual poetry: beautiful, flowing, and intelligent. Big Fish & Begonia may very well become a favorite film of preteen anime fans, particularly because of its exploration of love and bravery among young people with powers. Creativity is boundless, presenting an exciting world that exists between Heaven and Earth, one in which animals can fly and grandmothers can become enormous birds.
That said, the Chinese script may have been adjusted to accommodate Western audiences, leading to a somewhat confusing story with mixed messages, especially for Westerners. In Western cultures, teen suicide prevention is a top concern, while other countries' traditions and cultures can sometimes consider it noble to allow yourself to die so another can live. The script tries to play both sides, with throwaway comments tossed in to balance the two philosophies. Beyond that, the story comes off like the filmmakers read an old Chinese philosophy book, only understood two-thirds of it, and then tried to explain it to people who hadn't read it. Bottom line? This one is more about the visuals than the storytelling.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about their beliefs regarding an afterlife. Big Fish & Begonia offers the idea that when people die, their souls are brought back to life as fish in the ocean. Do you like this idea? Do you think life continues after death?
"Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?" are the opening lines of the dialogue. How would you answer those questions?
Is Chun is a positive role model? Why or why not?
Were any parts of the movie scary to you? If so, which ones, and why?
- In theaters: April 6, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: August 7, 2018
- Cast: Stephanie Sheh, Johnny Yong Bosch, Todd Haberkorn
- Directors: Xuan Liang, Chun Zhang
- Studio: Shout! Factory
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Ocean Creatures
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and brief nudity
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