‘Pom Poko’ turns raccoons into heroes

[rating=2]Starring: Maurice LaMarche, Jillian Bowen, Clancy Brown, J.K. Simmons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Andre Stojka
Director(s): Isao Takahata
Writer(s): Isao Takahata

Raccoons plot their next move in 'Pom Poko'
Raccoons plot their next move in ‘Pom Poko’

It’s been quite a few years since American television began its obsession with Japanese animation, and I’ve never quite understood it. Most of the shows are terrible and are generally gimmicks to sucker kids into buying silly toys or goofy card games. Some of the films, like Spirited Away are visually stunning and beautifully told, but other times the films are rather strange, occasionally confusing, and sometimes just too long.

That’s the problem with Pom Poko, which was released on DVD yesterday. It’s an interesting story, with some wonderful animation and good characters, but is just too darn long. Clocking in at nearly two hours, the story gets repetitive, with its resolution pretty obvious from the beginning.

In Pom Poko, two warring clans of raccoons, who have the magical power of transformation, agree to an uneasy peace when humans begin tearing up their land to build a new development community. These two clans work together to fight the humans, but when plan after plan fails, and infighting among the raccoons worsens, they eventually discover they may be fighting a war they cannot win.

I really liked the concept of Pom Poko, and was gung ho for the film at the beginning. But the over dependence on narration in the first twenty minutes gets tedious. Its followed by one scheme after another by the raccoons to stop the humans, with only a scattering of real story. None of these schemes really work, and at this point the slow moving film hasn’t really accomplished anything.

There’s a love story that develops among the raccoons, but honestly for me the best character was Gonta, perhaps because he was voiced expertly in the English version I watched by Clancy Brown. Once a regular in Earth 2, and the power behind Lex Luthor in the Justice League animated series on Cartoon Network, he gives life to the angry and violent Gonta. But ultimately his character is the most interesting because he often causes trouble, pushing for more violent action against the humans, while often getting dismissed.

By the end of the film I was left disappointed. My affection for the concept was not fulfilled, as the film slips into moments of silly humor too much. The idea of raccoons with the ability to transform themselves into anything is very clever, and their battle with humans fun, but the pacing of Pom Poko made it difficult to stay tuned in. Plus, a chunk of the film is simply the same concept replayed over and over again, which becomes tiresome.

There are only a few special features to be found, including trailers and tv spots, as well as storyboards.

Pom Poko for me was a disappointment, with an intriguing idea that wasn’t utilized to its fullest, and was about a half hour too long.

Rated: PG
Run Time: 1 hr., 59 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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