The Good: Interesting protagonist
The Bad: Pacing, Convoluted plot, Most characters, Of all things, gore
The Basics: Overall a confused attempt to be an epic, Princess Mononoke falls flat except in having a memorable protagonist.
Okay, it's not often that a film begins with a maggot/bloodworm covered demon and I'm not engaged. Unfortunately, this begins the animated adventure Princess Mononoke.
Right off the bat, the film is misleading. Princess Mononoke is a horrible title for this weird, winding film. The movie is 133 minutes and I don't think Princess Mononoke actually appears in the film. So, as we wait around for the title character to appear, it becomes clear that the protagonist is actually the disgraced Prince Ashitaka.
Ashitaka opens the film by rising to the occasion of slaying the demon that is charging toward his village. As a reward for the act of heroism, he is made an outcast from his village and given a consuming blight that is slowly killing him. So, he wanders. In his travels, he meets the wandering mercenary Jigo and the Lady Eboshi, a woman who runs a gun production factory where she employs ex-hookers.
The plot becomes quickly convoluted. And I'm someone who likes intricate stories. In Princess Mononoke, though, they feel long and unnecessarily complex. Ashitaka is in search of a cure from the Forest God or a place to die in peace. It's never truly clear which. Jigo is working for the unseen Emperor to get the head of the Forest God which will supposedly grant the Emperor immortality. Eboshi wants guns to kill off the last of the forest creatures that plague Iron Town and Princess Mononoke wants everyone dead because all humans are infringing on nature.
This is pretty much the old conflict of "human vs. nature" in its most literal sense. The film, however, falls flat because the theme is tired and it's too confused in the twisted plots. None of the characters are memorable save Ashitaka. The women employed by Eboshi are sexist and obvious and their jive and jibes are supposed to be funny but fall flat. And the wolf voiced by Gillian Anderson comes in fairly late, too. It's a disappointment for those of us who are fans of hers and sat down to watch the film because she was in it.
The film is largely unnecessary and despite the feeling that it's three times as long as it actually is, it's not unpleasant or anything. What is bothersome is the surprising level of animated gore. There are more bloodworms and maggots and creatures vomiting blood than I've probably ever seen in a single movie. And no, they don't seem terribly necessary.
For other animated films, please check out my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
The Clone Wars
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© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.