The Other Side of Animation 104: Napping Princess Review

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With Mother! by director Darren Aronofsky causing an honestly interesting “controversy” because of it failing at the box office, and splitting people down the middle in terms of liking it or hating it, do we really want original movies? I mean, people complain about wanting to see original movies all the time, but then don’t go see them, when they get bigger budgeted marketing or wider release. It’s infuriating because you can’t have it both ways. You want more “original” movies getting wider spread releases and bigger marketing budgets? Then you had better go see them and not complain. I’m doing my part, and you should do the same. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s honestly true. That’s why I went to see Napping Princess. Released in the states back in September, Napping Princess was a surprise pick up by GKids. At the very least, it caught me by surprise. It was directed by Kenji Kamiyama of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East fame, and was released earlier this year, and was a competitor at 2017’s Annecy Film Festival. Needless to say, it got overshadowed by Lu Over the Wall, Loving Vincent, and In This Corner of the World. I wanted to get this review out of the way so people don’t overlook this film. Let’s dive in.

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The story revolves around a high school student named Kokone Morikawa, voiced by Brina Palencia. She lives with her dad, who is sort of a dead beat, but very talented car mechanic. Kokone is a rather sleepy individual, as when she drifts off into sleep, she enters a dream world her father told her about. Unfortunately for her, Kokone’s dad is under some kind of investigation with a company that is accusing him of stealing something. The two worlds then start to collide with Kokone’s dream world starting to mirror the real world.

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So, what is good about Napping Princess? Well, since it’s animated by SIGNAL.MD., a sub studio of IG Port (the merger of animation studio Production I.G and manga publisher Mag Garden), the animation is quite nice. It’s fluid, expressive, snappy, and just like Production I.G’s other animated film, A Letter to Momo, it has more realistic movements, but also has snappy comedic animation. I was surprised to see a film that I wasn’t expecting to be funny, have some truly hilarious moments. The comedy is mostly from good physical comedy, expressive facial animation, and some funny lines. Sometimes, it shows that the 2D animation is paired up with CGI elements, but thankfully, they gel well together, and is not as distracting as late 90s/early 2000s anime that used CGI to replace actual objects. Since this film has fantasy elements in it, I found a lot of the action and visuals to be fun, and pretty on a technical scale. The fight with the lava monster in the dream world is always entertaining, and I was excited to see how characters from the real world would gel in the dream world. Plus, you have to have some fun when you have a transforming moped with a side-car, and a pirate fighting alongside a young magical girl with a talking stuffed animal.

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In terms of themes and characters, I found the themes of not giving up on your dreams, and changing to the times to be interesting ones to tackle. Most of the time, when you think of animation, you think of themes that are fairly light-weight, so kids can easily absorb them on-screen. It’s a bummer when you can tell the people behind the story and writing didn’t think ahead of time to slip something in that is more challenging for viewers to watch. This film shows that change will happen, and it’s good to get with the times, and that no matter what challenges get in your way, do not stop. I also liked the characters. Sure, Kokone and her friend Morio are not new to the animation scene, but they are likable characters. I enjoyed their chemistry together, and the dialogue exchanges they have with other characters. While the story does mostly focus on Kokone, her dad, Morio, and the villain, I found myself not getting annoyed by side characters. The music is also fun to listen to, and if it sounds similar to something like Kingdom Hearts, that’s because it was done by the same composer, Yoko Shimomura. It adds a whimsical tone to the film that fits its fantasy and dream-like setup. Usually, this is where I talk about the voice cast for the film, but I only saw the English subtitle version, so, from the few clips I have seen of the English dub, it was pretty solid. Not the best dub GKids has done with a Japanese-animated film (I think Miss Hokusai is their best one), but the actors do a good job.

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Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about the movie is that later on, it doesn’t know how to combine both the dream world and the real world. It’s a great third act, but the seamless fusing of both worlds isn’t fully executed well. The final fight of the film is amazing, but when it cuts back to the real world, it’s jarring, and I found myself wondering what happened, or how they got to said location in the first place, while the dream world was fusing with the real world. Napping Princess also rides the line of being too long. It’s a well-paced film, but it’s just two-hour runtime almost runs the idea dry. I also wish the dream world had more whimsical designs. I perfectly get why it was more technologically-themed, but I was enjoying the fantasy world to the point I wish the movie was set in this one setting.

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While it is definitely not going to be winning any major awards, and I can understand if some people don’t like it (though I don’t agree with the user scores for the film), I had a blast watching this movie. It was full of charm, personality, and wonderful animation. It was a fun fantasy adventure flick with a nice mystery, keeping all the abstract imagery together. While I will be rooting for other GKids/indie animated films to do well at the Oscars, Napping Princess was an awesome surprise, and I hope more people get to see it when it hits DVD. Well, Halloween is about to be upon us, so let’s review a film filled to the brim with corpses with The Empire of Corpses. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!