When Marnie Was There

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
When Marnie Was There Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Beautifully animated but slow tale about unique friendship.
  • PG
  • 2015
  • 103 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 27 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Anna's journey teaches viewers about the importance of self esteem and of valuing those who love you, even if they aren't related to you by blood.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Anna's foster mother and aunt/uncle love her and want her to find her self worth. Anna struggles with her identity (and makes some iffy choices), but she finally comes to terms with who she is, where she comes from, and how she fits into her family. Marnie makes Anna happy and feel loved.


Anna pulls a knife on a girl who's bothering her. She has an asthma attack early in the film. Some falls/bruises, and a scary sequence set in an old, decrepit silo during a storm.


Anna uses insult language, often but not always in reference to herself: "fat pig," "ugly," "stupid," "pathetic," "unpleasant," "moody." Anna says that she hates herself more than once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at a party, and an adult offers Anna a glass of wine. Some smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that When Marnie Was There is possibly the last film produced by Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli, now that master animator/studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki has retired. An adaptation of a British children's book by Joan G. Robinson, the slow-paced story focuses on Anna, a sad, lonely, self-hating foster child whose only friend is a mysterious girl who lives in a supposedly abandoned mansion. There's some insult language ("fat pig," "pathetic"), some scary scenes in an old silo, and a moment of threatened violence (Anna pulls a knife on a girl who's bothering her), as well as one scene in which an adult offers Anna a drink of wine at a party. But otherwise the movie is fine for tweens who can handle the themes, pace, and plot twists.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAudreyHeburn1960 April 4, 2017

A Thoughtful, Gorgeous Film!

Another classic to add to Studio Ghibli's films! Absolutely stunning and deep.

I would definitely allow and child to watch this, a little explanation mig... Continue reading
Adult Written byOliviaReviewsIt September 14, 2015

Somewhat Confusing Movie Has Great Characters, Animation

For the most part, this was an okay movie. Not one of Ghibli's best, but still an okay movie. Basically, it is the story of a young girl who wishes to have... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysillysasha123 December 14, 2015

Great Movie, with slightly confusing moments and lots of feels

I actually adore this movie. The story is like nothing I have ever seen before. The relation between Anna and Marnie is such a unique story, the story has a TO... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old June 16, 2017

Barely any violence

This movie is beautiful and I first watched it when I was 9. It may seem confusing, but everything makes sense at the end. It has barely any violence, Anna DOES... Continue reading

What's the story?

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is storied Studio Ghibli's potentially final film. The Japanese anime house's first film since co-founder Hayao Miyazaki's retirement, the movie is an adaptation of British author Joan G. Robinson's 1967 children's book. Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the English-dubbed version) is a lonely 12-year-old social misfit whose foster mother (Geena Davis) decides to send her to stay with relatives in a small seaside town that should be good for her health (she has asthma). While staying with her "auntie" and "uncle," Anna spots a young girl in the window of a mansion that's believed to be be abandoned. The girl, Marnie (Kiernan Shipka), and Anna strike up a friendship, except Marnie isn't always available, and Anna begins to suspect that her new (and only) friend isn't real at all.

Is it any good?

This is an interesting, beautifully animated story about a fragile, self-deprecating young girl. But it's also very slow-moving, occasionally confusing, and in certain scenes too emotional to compel younger audiences used to action-packed plots or clear story lines with relatable characters. Though kids may not be the target audience at all, of course, since Studio Ghibli films are beloved by adult animation aficionados.

But even the biggest Ghibli devotee will have to concede that, while visually pretty and sometimes touching, When Marnie Was There lacks something as well. It's not going to stand among Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl's Moving Castle as the best the legendary studio has produced. Even if you divorce yourself from the outrageous expectations that every Ghibli film be a masterpiece, When Marnie Was There is undeniably more style than substance. It's still absolutely worth checking out for its gothic elements of the is-she-or-isn't-she ghost story, but it isn't a case of saving the best for last.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about anime movies and how they compare/contrast to other forms of animation. How does When Marnie Was There differ from anime movies that involve Japanese folklore or magic? How does it compare to more mainstream animated movies for kids?

  • Some parts of the story aren't told in a very straightforward way; was that confusing for younger kids? Is that OK? Do movies for kids need to have easy-to-follow plots?

  • Anna has a lot of trouble with self esteem. Have you ever felt the way she does about herself? What helped? Who can you talk to when you feel that way?

  • Why do you think Anna lashed out at some other kids during the movie? Does that make her a bully? Does knowing that she was sad and lonely make you feel differently about the way she acts than you might have otherwise?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love animation

Themes & Topics

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