Upon seeing the trailer for When Marnie Was There, I really didn’t know what to think or make of it. I’ve realized for awhile now that sometimes it’s just more fun to dive into a movie or series without knowing what the plot is or what others have said about it. That was certainly the case here, and it paid off as the Studio Ghibli film is one of the best and moving films I’ve seen this year or anytime for that matter.
Based on the young adult novel by Joan G. Robinson, and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty), the story follows an orphaned girl named Anna (Hailee Steinfeld) who has a lot of emotional issues and usually just keeps to herself. After suffering from constant, stress induced asthma attacks, her foster mother sends her to stay in the country with her aunt and uncle for a while until she feels better both emotionally and healthwise. Not long after having a fallout with some of the local girls there, Anna runs away and finds a mansion-like house near a marsh area in town. Being curious, she decides to step through the marsh and look around inside, which appears to be old, empty and ran down.
One night as she checks on it again via a rowboat since the tide raised the water level, she sees a young girl looking out one of the windows, and even comes outside to greet her once her boat nearly crashes into the dock in front of the mansion. Anna eventually learns the girl’s name is Marnie (Kiernan Shipka), and she too has some emotional problems, but doesn’t show them as much as Anna does. The two quickly form a bond and become very close friends as they explore around the place, go on boat rides and more every evening when the tide is in. Things take a weird turn when Anna begins to blackout and wake up alone in the woods or by the road. Without giving away any of the amazing story, when she continues to pass out as the two become closer, it drives a rift between them that the two must work out, and makes viewers wonder if Marnie is real, a ghost, or something more.
It was a slow burn for sure, but I enjoyed every bit of When Marnie Was There. It seems like the story took a while to come together, but boy when it does it will send any viewer into an emotional overload. It helps that all of the characters, big and small, contribute to the film and story in their own, special ways that are sure to be favorites to those who watch. There’s also a nice, talented cast behind them in the English dub, such as John C. Reilly, Geena Davis, Kathy Bates, Catherine O’Hara, Vanessa Williams and more. I’m glad that I was able to experience the film on Blu-ray, as the only way to truly enjoy a Studio Ghibli movie is in high definition. Every frame of animation, as well as the colors and details of the artwork come to life here. I’m a stickler for noticing small details in things, and seeing fun stuff such as when Anna steps into the water and a little hermit crab crawls away from her feet was just awesome.
For those who like some extras with their movie, there’s an hour or so worth on here that you’ll enjoy exclusive to the Blu-ray release. “The Making of When Marnie Was There” goes behind the scenes with the Japanese cast and crew as they share their experiences on working on the film. “Yohei Taneda Creates the Art of When Marnie was There” has the artist go into how he came up with the designs for the beautiful artwork that is used in the movie. Rounding out the extras is “Behind the Scenes with the Voice Talent” where the English dub cast share what it was like working on the movie and voicing the often complex but fun characters.
When Marnie Was There is a slow, but highly enjoyable ride that anyone who loves movies doesn’t want to miss. Featuring everything that makes Studio Ghibli one of the greatest animation studios ever, a moving story, perfect fitting characters, and gorgeous artwork and animation backed by a wonderful cast, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better drama the whole family can enjoy.