A Quieter Toon Heroine
Though a bit talky and slow, — possibly the last movie to come from Studio Ghibli — is a breath of fresh air. Review by Charles Solomon.
When Marnie Was There
What Is Real? But when a Tokyo family buys the Marsh House, Anna becomes confused. How can they move into Marnie’s home? She recognizes the rooms she’s visited with Marnie, but everything is different. Sayako (cheerfully perky Ava Acres), the daughter of the new owners, confides to Anna that she’s found a diary in her room that had been hidden there decades earlier — by Marnie.
As he did in The Secret World of Arietty, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi suggests supernatural phenomena may lurk beneath seemingly normal life. In Arietty, the tiny Borrowers shared a house with the elderly Sadoko and her nephew Sho. In his new film, Marnie feels present but elu- sive, like the shifting clouds at the seashore.
Yonebayashi and his writers skillfully focus and enrich Joan G. Robinson’s rambling juvenile novel. In the original book, Anna was so determinedly alienated and antisocial; she was shipped off before the end of the school term to stay with the Peggs, an effortfully colorful lower class couple whom her guardian apparently knew. Making Anna asthmatic creates a more plausible reason for her to move to the shore; making her an artist gives her a reason to be fascinated by the Marsh House and the way light plays over its walls. This Anna is more likable and understandable than the balky heroine in the book, and her aunt and uncle emerge as more dimensional characters than the Peggs, who felt like a plot device.
Adolescent Complexity The filmmakers capture the emotional intensity — and over-intensity — of adolescence. When Anna and Marnie share secrets and pledge eternal friendship their tears are genuine. Anna’s depth and complexity offer a refreshing change from the relentlessly spunky heroines in recent American features. Although they died when she was quite small, Anna misses her parents and grandmother, but her sorrow is mixed with a very believable anger at being abandoned. Although she feels genuine affection for Yoriko, she fears being betrayed yet again.
At times, the pacing in When Marnie Was There drags, and the presence of the title character requires some long explanatory scenes with the painter Hisako (Vanessa Williams) — as it did in the book. Yonebayashi adds visual interest to this sequence by having Anna silently witness the other characters’ memories, recalling how journalists Genya and Kyoji found themselves in the tangled memories of aging film star Chiyoko in Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress. Although the backgrounds are handsome, they lack the individuality of other Ghibli features. The English dub feels talkier than the Japanese original.
Those caveats aside, When Marnie Was There is an interesting, well-crafted film that offers viewers a welcome alternative to the familiar heroines and sitcom gags in many American films. Animation fans can only hope the film succeeds and keeps production alive at the storied Studio Ghibli. [
Arcana Studio’s Sean Patrick O’Reilly talks landing a theatrical release for animated feature. By Tom McLean.
It takes tenacity and persistence to get an independent animated movie both made and distributed theatrically. Just ask Sean Patrick O’Reilly, the writer and director of Pixies, which arrives in theaters June 5 via Vertical Entertainment and hits the home video shelves at Walmart in July.
O’Reilly produced the movie through Arcana Studios, which he founded in 2004 to publish his comic-book series Kade. Since then, Arcana has published more than 300 graphic novels to become the largest comics publisher in Canada. In 2012, Arcana made the move into animation with the 13 x 22 min. TV series Kagagi, followed immediately by Pixies, adapted from O’Reilly’s comic of the same name.
Animation Magazine: What prompted you to move from comics publishing into the animation business?
Sean Patrick O’Reilly: Arcana has a mountain of intellectual property that is fully developed with great stories and engaging characters that already have a fan base. The key was to identify a slate from the library that would work for animation and just take it a step at a time.
Animag: In what ways are comics publishing and animation different and/or similar?
O’Reilly: The preproduction process in comics and animation is almost identical. Start with a story, move to script, then the collaboration between writer/director and artists begins, continuing to storyboards. With comics, next step is to color in Photoshop, solicit with Diamond, send to the printer and distribute. However, I didn’t go straight from comics into animation as I had motion comics that were an intermediary step.
Motion comics take regular comic-book panels and add simple scan and pans in After Effects. Voices are added, then sound effects, even visual effects, and I realized after doing a Pixies motion comic, I had a very good looking Pixies animatic.
Learning all about the animation process was a massive learning curve. I was very lucky and hired some key people who got me through the beginning.
Animag: Where did you find financing and partners?
O’Reilly: I started early with a group of visionary investors. Humbly, it was not a massive amount of money, but they were amazing and incredibly supportive. Canada’s Movie Central was our first sale followed by the Middle East and Vertical Entertainment for the U.S. I had a lump sum, lots of preproduction done — thanks to the comics — and was immediately in production.
Animag: What were the major creative challenges?
O’Reilly: The pixies. Originally they looked like an elf with red or green pointy hats, as in the book. It’s amazing how many elfs with red-green pointy hats there are on this planet, and that was the majority of the criticism of the comic. Publishing a story first is a great way to battle test material, especially if you listen to your readers. The art director, Todd Demong, took the idea of a pixie and mashed it up with a bee.
Gary Yuen, our amazing senior character designer, then modeled the first pixie and it really was like having a newborn. I have four kids so I do know what it feels like. With this “bee birthed Pixie,” the Pixies’ entire culture, their dwellings (skeps), their ability to go unseen for so long and a number of other creative hurdles were instantly overcome.
Animag: Where was the animation done? How long did it take?
O’Reilly: All animation was done in Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver in Canada. It took a lot longer than it should have, to be honest. I had to balance the cash flow and payroll between tax credits and acquiring good employees is not an easy task especially when I’m losing those good employees to other studios. The entire process for animation was under two years.
Animag: How did you end up with a deal for theatrical distribution?
O’Reilly: I met with Vertical Entertainment at AFM and they came to the meeting already aware of the graphic novel and its success. We had a deal relatively quickly and they have been amazing to work with. Pixies is in premier theaters on June 5th.
Animag: What lessons did you learn from previous animation projects that you tried to apply?
O’Reilly: Lovecraft & The Frozen Kingdom