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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Lu Over the Wall is a Japanese-language, English-dubbed anime drama about three middle schoolers whose pop band attracts the attention and friendship of a mermaid whose tail separates into legs as she dances to the music. The tween-friendly adventure is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli films, right down to the mermaid-friendship theme, which recalls Ponyo. Expect some scenes of violence/scariness when villagers kidnap and threaten to hurt/kill the merfolk, and a creature burns down a tent and frightens people. People seem to struggle in the water, but merfolk save them. Merfolk nearly die when lights/sunshine hit them. There's also a bit of flirting and kissing. Families can discuss the importance of friendship and seeing past differences and stereotypes.
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What's the story?
LU OVER THE WALL is an animated Japanese fantasy (which can be watched either with subtitles or dubbed in English) about teens from a fishing village who befriend a mermaid. Kai Ashimoto (voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas) is a quiet, introverted young musician who used to live in Tokyo but now has moved back to his family's small village with his divorced father. Two classmates, Yuho (Stephanie Sheh) and Kunio (Brandon Engman), invite Kai to join their pop-rock band, Siren. When the trio practices on secluded Merfolk Island, they're surprised to encounter an adorable mermaid named Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), whose fins turn into feet when music is played. And when Lu sings, humans can't stop dancing. Kai grows closer to Lu, telling her what he hasn't been able to say to anyone. But when the band plays at a local event, and the villagers see Lu, her presence delights some and frightens others, who believe the area folktales about merfolk bringing danger, disaster, and even death to the town.
Is it any good?
This quirky spin on classic folktales follows an introverted teen musician's growing, platonic bond with a sweet, music-loving mermaid. Vibrantly colored and imaginative, Lu Over the Wall is sure to charm any moviegoer who enjoys Japanese anime or mermaid stories. Some characters lack depth (several of the supporting roles are aren't very well-rounded), but the movie is still simultaneously humorous and substantive. It isn't the kind of anime drama that will evoke a deep outpouring of feelings, like many of Studio Ghibli's best offerings, but it's compelling to see how the villagers handle Lu's presence -- and how easily they turn on the merfolk once the merfolk stop being perceived as a tourism opportunity and start to feel dangerous.
The voice acting is well done, but there are a couple of times when Lu's high-pitched, squealy voice might be difficult to decipher in the dubbed version. Luckily, she doesn't say much that isn't monosyllabic or repeated many times ("friends, friends" or "like, like" or "happy, happy"), so it's not difficult to pick up what she says on the second or third try. Kai's angst (and cluelessness about Yuho's crush on him) can get a bit grating by the third act, but Kunio is a breath of fresh air as the comic-relief friend (who's head over heels for the beautiful Yuho). The action sequences are impressive, especially when the merfolk band together to save the villagers from rising waters. Parents with tweens and teens who enjoy foreign animation will surely want to add this to their family movie night rotation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the folklore in Lu Over the Wall. How do legends about the merfolk affect the villagers' feelings about mermaids? Do you think those feelings are valid?
Were any parts of the movie scary to you? Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
Discuss anime films. How are they similar to each other, and how are they different from most American-made animated movies?
- In theaters: May 11, 2018
- Cast: Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh
- Director: Masaaki Yuasa
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some peril and thematic elements
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