From Karate Kid to Yoda & Luke, the master and apprentice is the basis for a number of memorable cinematic duos. In director Mamoru Hosoda’s 2015 Japanese animated fantasy adventure, a beastly teacher and human boy pupil get up to some amusing mischief and along the way learn they need each other more than they care to admit.
While The Boy and the Beast’s bright color palette and cutesy talking animal characters might be geared towards a younger audience, there are some darker moments and themes that might work for adults. Sure, the story treads on familiar territory but it’s developed enough to justify it’s nearly 2 hour run time and at its heart is a fairly entertaining partnership.
Ren is a runaway boy, scraping by in the back alleys of Tokyo. He’s not the most lovable kid at first glance. On the surface, he’s fiery and can be a loudmouth. Inside, there’s quite a bit of loneliness and hate. One night he accidentally discovers a pathway to another world inhabited by beastly creatures.
In the Beast Kingdom, the bear-like Kumatetsu is one of two prime candidates to succeed the Lord and become reincarnated as a god. The powerful but lazy Kumatetsu decides to take on Ren as an apprentice because he was told it might help with his discipline.
The interactions between Ren and Kumatetsu are pretty amusing in places. Unlike a traditional master and apprentice relationship, Kumatetsu is extremely lousy at explaining things and it’s up to Ren to learn to fight from secretly imitating his mentor. The two have similar personalities that leads them to clash heads. Both are stubborn and combative. They constantly yell at each other and throw humorous insults.
The Boy and the Beast is at it’s most light and entertaining when focusing on the two training with each other. The initial big fight sequence is fun and captivating. However, there is a shift towards more serious story lines that ties into a number of not-so subtle themes at play.
The themes revolve around the idea of how being raised and surrounded with love and honesty can shape a person for the better. Otherwise, there’s a darkness within all of us that can come out and become a destructive force consumed with hate. How satisfying the shift in story focus is might vary with each viewer.
Where this film slightly falters is the lack of nuance and development in the antagonist. And although Ren and Kumatetsu’s love/hate relationship can be entertaining, it’s not as deeply emotional as it’s striving to be. The Beast Kingdom could also be more wondrous to capture the imagination of the audience.
All in all, the Boy and the Beast is a decent effort and is a film worth considering for fans of anime. The animation is smooth and the CGI for real world Toyko is eye-catching. Unfortunately, the story, characters and world-building doesn’t have that magical X-factor to make it a memorable standout.