When Marnie Was There – Review

Hayao Miyazaki gave his favorite 50 children's books back in 2010 and Joan G. Robinson's 1967 story, When Marnie Was There, was one of the beloved stories listed by the famed animator and co-creator of Studio Ghibli.  The legendary animation company has now given us a vivid and beautiful feature film version of the book Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Click through for my full review.

When Marnie Was There Still Photo courtesy of GKIDS

Since Hayao Miyazaki announced he was retiring from Studio Ghibli back in 2013 the status of the company has been in an interesting limbo.  Even last year the legendary studio announced it was halting production for the temporary future.  When Marnie Was There is the return of the Studio, with help from GKIDS, to the feature film world. 


Anna is our lead character and in the English audio version is played by Haliee Steinfeld.  She is a depressed quiet girl who's only solace is in her sketching.  Unlike most of fantastical plot lines in Studio Ghibli studios history this story is actually rather simple and down to earth.  We follow the young adopted girl, stricken with asthma, as she spends the summer with her "Aunt" and "Uncle" at their seaside home.  It's there that the artist finds an amazing old mansion, The Marsh House, that is located on the other side of the shore.  It's as she sneaks to this home that she meets the mysterious blond-haired girl, Marnie.  From there the secrets slowly unravel as Anna starts to grow emotionally, socially and artistically.  She meets the usual fun range of unique personalities that populate any and every Studio Ghibli film.  But all of the beauty in the film is grounded in it's reality.  There isn't magical figures or characters in the film, it's instead a real coming of age story showcased by the beautiful animation of this seaside community. 


Marnie is a rather unique character and the film's revealing truth of who she is brings about the most other-worldly part of the film. But the real power of the story revolves around Anna's coming to terms with her foster background, her depression and her lack of social skills.  And her connection to Marnie.  We meet her as a very sad and lonely young girl and the film does an amazing job of showing a gradual unearthing of a really kind, happy and electric young woman.  But this is only accomplished after she figures out who Marnie really is and more importantly who she herself really is.  Marnie's character is a very mysterious one, but the pay off of her revealing truth is worth the slow gradual unfolding of the story.  Who she is always seems to be on the surface but the final truth is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The film has an accompanying song, by Priscilla Ahn, that really highlights Anna's incredible story as well as the reality behind being a foster or adopted child.  The music video does a great job of showcasing the beauty of the film but also captures all of the amazing qualities of growth that the film gives to us as the audience.


The film isn't your typical Studio Ghibli story, but it is easily one of it's most realistic.  For the English translation version the Studio has gotten some real heavyweights to be along side the talented young Haliee.  John C. Reilly, Geena Davis, Vanessa Williams, Kathy Bates and Ellen Burstyn all lend their voices to the fun cast of characters in the town.  Take the chance to witness a poignant and thoughtful film from the animation giant. 


The film opens at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Plano this Friday, June 5th. 

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