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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Boy and the Beast is a subtitled animated Japanese fantasy about an orphaned human boy who ends up being taken under the tutelage of a "beast" in a fantasy kingdom. This coming-of-age story has fish-out-of-water, adoption, and hero's-journey themes, and it features several battles, sword fights, and near deaths -- as well as an actual death (though it leads to reincarnation). The language is sometimes strong -- including "s--t," "damn," "pissed off," etc. -- but the messages about the nature of strength and the importance of perseverance, determination, and teamwork are clear. It's ideal for older tweens and young teens who are ready for more mature animated adventures.
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What's the story?
THE BOY AND THE BEAST is an animated Japanese fantasy about an orphaned 9-year-old boy, Ren (voiced by Aoi Miyazaki), who would rather take to the streets of Tokyo than move in with distant relatives. Grieving, he wanders the streets of the city's Shibuya district (reminiscent of Times Square); while walking in dark alleys, he ends up stumbling into an alternate universe called Jutengai, which is filled with speaking "beasts." A huge bear-like warrior called Kumatetsu (Koji Yakusho) intrigues Ren, who asks to learn Kumatetsu's fighting skills. The warrior takes Ren on an apprentice, renaming him Kyuta (translates as "nine," the boy's age at the time), but the two are so strong-willed that they spend most of their time bickering -- until they finally find their rhythm and for years spar, eat, and live together. But when Kyuta is 17 (now voiced by Shota Sometani), he begins to feel a pull back to the human world. He starts traveling there more often and eventually meets a a sweet girl who teaches him to read. Back in Jutengai, Kumatetsu must prepare for a important battle to decide whether he or his rival will be the next lord of the kingdom. Kyuta, caught between two worlds, must ultimately decide whether he's a human or a beast.
Is it any good?
Fabulously voice-acted and featuring lovably flawed characters, this is a touching animated story about an orphaned boy who's raised by a warrior beast. Although it takes a while to establish Kyuta and Kumatetsu's uniquely comical, bickering relationship, their mentor-mentee rapport eventually grows into something quite sweet and powerful. Director Mamoru Hosoda has created a coming-of-age tale that's epic, gorgeously animated, and emotional. While too mature for most single-digit-aged viewers, older tweens and teens (especially those familiar with subtitled movies) will connect with Kyuta and enjoy how he not only learns from Kumatetsu, but teaches him, too.
One of the best sequences in the movie is when Kyuta and Kumatetsu, along with a monk-like pig and a wise-cracking monkey, visit the lords of various realms to discover the true meaning of strength, only to find that each has his own definition of the word. Kumatetsu is a bulky behemoth who thinks he doesn't need any advice, but of course he -- also an orphan who taught himself everything -- does, just as Kyuta needs a family. Once a teenager, Kyuta's forays back into the human world are heart-tugging as he develops a friendship (with a hint of romance) with the lovely Kaede (Suzu Hirose). Longing to belong somewhere but feeling stuck between both worlds, Kyuta/Ren is the kind of protagonist audiences will love.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the language and violence are necessary to the story of The Boy and the Beast. Do you perceive the violence differently when it takes place in the human world than the beast world? Why? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Some people think any animated film is OK for even very young children, but is that the case here? Why are the themes in this story more appropriate for older tweens and teens?
Discuss the appeal of Japanese animated films. How are they different from -- and similar to -- Hollywood-made animated movies? Which do you prefer, and why?
- In theaters: March 4, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2016
- Cast: Morgan Berry, Bryn Apprill, Kumiko Aso
- Director: Mamoru Hosoda
- Studio: Funimation
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character Strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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