Pom Poko

Rated PG 119 minutes

This 1994 release from the Japanese animation outfit Studio Ghibli is one of only a few fantasies directed by Isao Takahata, who built his reputation on adapting realistic stories like Anne of Green Gables and Grave of the Fireflies. His characters are a clan of woodland creatures called tanuki--fun-loving, furry mammals who can change their shape at will (the English subtitles incorrectly identify them as "raccoons"). When suburban sprawl threatens their communal habitat, they struggle to respond: do they wage war on humans, strike a devil's bargain with them, or flee their ancestral home? The film is surprisingly mature in its depiction of community dynamics and its sobering conclusion, which addresses the real-life costs of environmental devastation. The visual design veers from fantasy to naturalism, depending on the tone of the story: the tanuki appear sometimes as Disneyesque cuddlies and other times as realistic-looking rodents.

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