A Qui­eter Toon Hero­ine

Animation Magazine - - Features -

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

Quiet, some­times slow, Marnie is a well-crafted tale.

Sean Pa­trick O’Reilly

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